DJ LeMahieu has ‘pretty significant’ bone bruise. What are Yankees’ other 3B options?

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TAMPA, Fla. — The last time DJ LeMahieu played through a foot injury, his numbers cratered so much that he was left off the New York Yankees’ postseason roster in 2022.

LeMahieu had a sesamoid bone fracture in his right big toe that led to ligament damage in his second toe. It wasn’t until the All-Star break last season that LeMahieu completely got over his foot injury and started looking like the player who was an MVP finalist in the shortened 2020 season. But bad news has struck LeMahieu’s right foot once again.

The Yankees’ starting third baseman fouled a pitch off his foot on Saturday and is now dealing with a bone bruise, according to manager Aaron Boone. His status for Opening Day and beyond is now in doubt.

“We’re gonna listen to the foot. It’s certainly reasonable to think so,” Boone said when asked if LeMahieu would be ready to go on Opening Day. “I’m not going to speculate too much on that. We’re going to look at it every couple of days. He got a really good report from the X-ray and CT scan. (A team podiatrist) did a hands-on evaluation with him (Monday), which was encouraging. But it’s a pretty significant bone bruise on a foot that’s had some issues for him. I’m not going to have him play through anything initially. I feel like that’s where you start compensating and start putting other parts of the body and that foot in jeopardy. I’ve been clear with DJ on that.”

The Yankees don’t want a repeat of what happened to LeMahieu in the second half of 2022 and the first half of 2023, so they’re going to be extra cautious and wait until he’s fully healed before he sees game action again. Boone said LeMahieu will likely get another exam later this week to see what the status of his foot is. If LeMahieu’s injury ends up not being too serious, the team could always put him on the injury list, backdate his IL placement to March 25 (three days prior to Opening Day) and he’d theoretically be available by the team’s home opening series versus the Toronto Blue Jays.

But if LeMahieu will have to miss extended time, the options to replace him at third base are grim. Oswald Peraza has already been ruled out for a minimum of six to eight weeks with a sub-scapular strain in his right shoulder. He would’ve been the obvious replacement, but the Yankees currently don’t have a leading candidate. Here’s who else could be an option:

Cabrera can play anywhere on the field, including third base. He’s played 140 1/3 innings at third in his brief MLB career and has graded out well defensively. In limited game action, Cabrera has two defensive runs saved and three outs above average. Cabrera has above-average arm strength and, if needed, would present the best internal option defensively.

Cabrera’s problem is he has yet to show much consistency offensively. Last year, Cabrera was one of the bigger Yankees letdowns after his thrilling debut in the back half of the 2022 season. At this point of spring last year, it was a foregone conclusion that Cabrera would make the Opening Day roster. When asked if Cabrera had a guaranteed spot this year, Boone was non-committal.

“I don’t know about that,” Boone said. “He’s competing with a lot of other things. It’s been good to see him gain some traction here offensively in the last week or so. (Monday) was probably his best day. To put a charge into one on a pitch up from Seranthony (Domínguez), it’s one of the better swings I’ve seen from him in a long time.

“He’s playing a ton. He’s right in that mix. We’re trying to consider everyone and everything. We know how great of a teammate he is and what a great team guy he is and the defensive versatility is so real. I will say it’s been good to see him getting some offensive traction here.”

The super utilityman cranked a home run to right field and added a double on Monday, his second multi-hit game of spring, upping his OPS to a paltry .587. Spring results usually don’t matter much, but coming off a brutal 2023 campaign, Cabrera may have to show more results at the plate before the Yankees commit to him at third.

Spring training non-roster invitee Kevin Smith is still in camp with the Yankees and has gotten ample playing time lately. Smith has played third the most in his three-year career, and like Cabrera, has graded out well defensively with five defensive runs saved and four outs above average.

Even if Smith isn’t the choice for third base, he may have a chance of making the Opening Day roster because of his ability to play shortstop. The Yankees don’t have a clear backup to Anthony Volpe, so having someone who could play both short and third would be beneficial for the team. Last season for the Oakland Athletics’ Triple-A team, Smith hit .324/.372/.653 with 16 home runs, but he hasn’t hit at all in the majors, posting a slash line of .173/.215/.301 in 114 career games with the Athletics and Blue Jays.

In spring so far, Smith is 8-for-33 with a .645 OPS. None of the bench options the Yankees have in camp have performed particularly well at the plate, which has left general manager Brian Cashman to consider outside options.

“I feel like we have some people that we can rely on here, but (in) any spring we’ll always look external, too,” Cashman said this weekend. “We’ll see how the rest of camp plays out elsewhere, as well as trade conversations. Something that might not fit elsewhere might fit better here. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Donovan Solano

The one-time Yankee has been a solid player over the past few years and hasn’t shown much decline despite being 36 years old. Solano was good for the Minnesota Twins last season. He posted a 116 wRC+ in 134 games and had a respectable .369 on-base percentage, something the Yankees sorely lacked last season. Solano also played first, second and third base for the Twins and graded out as a well-above-average second baseman while being OK at first and third.

One of those options who did not fit elsewhere is Josh Harrison. Harrison was informed by the Cincinnati Reds on Monday that he would not be on the team’s Opening Day roster, so the veteran opted out of his minor league contract.

Harrison played just 41 games for the Phillies last season and hit .204/.263/.291 before getting released in August. From 2020 to 2022, Harrison posted a 102 wRC+ and has similar positional versatility to Cabrera and has played everywhere except catcher.

Harrison will turn 37 this season, so it’s unclear if there’s much more juice left in his bat. But with the Yankees potentially desperate, they could bring him into camp and offer the possibility of immediate playing time, which is something he’s clearly looking for after opting out of his deal with the Reds.

The Atlanta Braves reassigned David Fletcher to minor league camp on Monday, meaning the Yankees may be able to swing a small trade for a player who seemingly won’t be with their big league team come Opening Day. Fletcher has six years of big league experience and is a quality infielder but hasn’t shown much at the plate. He’s posted three consecutive seasons of sub-80 wRC+, but has been solid at the plate this spring, posting a .717 OPS.

(Top photo of DJ LeMahieu: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

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