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When the Mets were for sale, I was told repeatedly that many potential buyers were not considering a purchase attempt. Why try when Steve Cohen was lurking?
The fear was getting deep in the process and offering $2 billion only to have Cohen then offer $2.1 billion, then offer $2.2 billion only to have him go to $2.3 billion and so on. The thought was the lifelong Mets fan with the most money and most motivation was going to own the Mets at some point, so why get involved in a futile negotiating dance?
A similar sentiment has hung over DJ LeMahieu’s free agency. Many teams are interested in him. As an executive from a club that would love to land him said, “Who wouldn’t want him? The last two years are no fluke. He is a great, low-maintenance player.”
But many teams have fallen into the “why bother” category. They know LeMahieu very much would like to return to the Yankees and that the Yankees very much want to retain their best player. When that has occurred historically, it is pretty much 100 percent that the Yankees end up with the player.
Except six weeks into these negotiations the sides remain far apart — more than $25 million, The Post has learned, confirming a chasm first reported by NJ.com and The Athletic.
Now, this all could be part of a hard negotiation. It is worth remembering, for example, that Cohen said he was out for good when his initial foray to buy the Mets collapsed last spring. Few believed that Cohen was actually out and, of course, he is now the owner.
The Yankees probably would like to reel LeMahieu in at three years in the $54 million range ($18 million per) and the player and his agent would like it to be in the five-year, $100 million or more category. Is the compromise four years at $88 million with a vesting fifth-year option that would take it over $100 million and be announced Jan. 7-ish? You wouldn’t want to bet against Yankees history or how much LeMahieu has enjoyed being part of it the last two years.
But free agent specifically includes “free.” LeMahieu can sign with the San Francisco Giants or the Yomiuri Giants tomorrow if he so desires.
Keep in mind that a standard maneuver from the agent playbook when it comes to convincing the client to leave a nest he likes is to build up the “disrespect” angle: “They say they love you, but look what they are offering when other teams will do so much more …”
It feels we have reached that part of the program. In this instance, is that designed to move the Yankees to pay more? Will the Yankees blink and pay more? Or is LeMahieu now truly more open to leaving and the Yankees more willing to allow that to happen if they cannot get him at their price?
If LeMahieu wants to go, teams like the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Giants and so many more will line up. He can play three positions well, hit like a batting champion and provide zero headaches in a clubhouse. Add that all up and why in the hell would the Yankees let go a player who has finished fourth and third in the AL MVP voting in his two years with the team?
We can scream about franchise value or previous revenues generated by the Yankees, but the Yankees’ current stance is to be more dollar-conscious.
Hal Steinbrenner has stated that the Yankees lost the most revenue in the majors last year without, among other things, fans in the stands. There is no idea yet — even with the optimism of a COVID-19 vaccine — when or if fans will return next season.
The fervor to cut is only exacerbated by the fact that a Rays team with a payroll one-third of the Yankees‘ beat the Yanks both in the AL East and the Division Series in the shortened 2020 season. That annoyed an owner who lives in Tampa beyond his normal level and made him wonder if the Yanks have to chase every shiny toy.
After all, Steinbrenner heard in previous years to stretch to take on Giancarlo Stanton or Gerrit Cole and that would bring a title (it didn’t). He knows it will be LeMahieu this year. Then he will be called cheap if it is not Francisco Lindor next year. And don’t let Aaron Judge leave in free agency the year after that.
The Yanks think they will still have the majors’ largest payroll in 2021, just that it will fall under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold — a roughly $50 million cut from what a full 2020 season would have been. In that scenario, they currently project to have about $35 million to spend. So if LeMahieu comes in at $18 million per or $20 million or $22 million, etc., that impacts what else is possible, especially in finding rotation help, lefty bats and perhaps a shortstop.
There is a sense that the best free agents such as LeMahieu, Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and George Springer are pandemic-proof — that they will score somewhat standard huge deals. The Yanks appear in “prove it” mode. But if that is their stance, then even in a slow-moving market other options vanish — for example, Japanese ace Tomoyuki Sugano must be signed by the time his posting period ends Jan. 7.
And what happens if Steinbrenner has drawn a line in the sand, another team beats it and LeMahieu leaves? Once you have Cole, Stanton and free-agent clocks ticking on Judge and Gleyber Torres, you are a win-now team. So do the Yanks have a $30 million-ish plan ready to go to try to mitigate the loss of LeMahieu and remain an elite team?
It is all part of a game of chicken between the Yankees and their best player.
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