Cubs’ Worst Trade by Theo Epstein Might’ve Been Best for DJ LeMahieu – NBC Chicago


Cubs? Rockies? DJ LeMahieu biggest winner of bad trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

NEW YORK — About a month ago, Yankees star DJ LeMahieu went to a New York Rangers playoff game in the city with a couple of teammates and apparently thought he would go unnoticed through the crowd exiting the game once it was time to part ways with the teammates and head home.

“I expected to walk right out of there and go back to my place,” said LeMahieu, who was caught off guard by the quick recognition and countless requests for selfies and handshakes, which made the rounds in a viral fan video.

“It shows you how passionate the Yankees fan base is, for sure,” LeMahieu said.

It might also show how conditioned LeMahieu has become to being overlooked despite a decorated career — first by Cubs officials who dismissed the talented rookie upon taking over the baseball operations in the fall of 2011, throwing him into the Ian Stewart trade with Colorado, then by critics during his free agency who considered his hitting prowess a product of Coors Field.

But maybe that’s just a small part of why he’s been as good as he has for the Rockies and Yankees a decade after what might be the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer Cubs regime’s worst trade.

“I always play with a chip on my shoulder; no matter what’s going on, I always find that chip,” LeMahieu said. “I’m happy where I’m at.”

So are the Yankees, who after a two-year go-round with the three-time Gold Glove winner and all-fields-hitting LeMahieu, re-signed him to a six-year, $90 million deal, at 32, before last season.

These days he’s leading off for the best team in the majors as the Cubs make a rare stop at Yankee Stadium this weekend and face their 2009 second-round draft pick for the first time since he doubled and scored during the Rockies’ 2-1, 13-inning wild-card victory that bounced the Cubs from the 2018 playoff field.

“DJ’s been awesome for us,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s been in the MVP conversation already a couple times for us. His versatility’s huge for us — his ability to play second, third, first. And he’s just a really special hitter.”

Don’t think the Cubs have missed that — as much as they might have overlooked him early in his career. Especially when he became the first player to win batting titles in each league.

“It’s funny,” LeMahieu said. “[Epstein] texted me a couple years ago, and it was just funny to hear from him. He was, ‘Hey, I messed that one up, but good luck to you.’

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. I really respect him reaching out like that. That was pretty cool.”

LeMahieu declined to weigh in on whether he has turned the Ian Stewart trade into the worst of Epstein’s career: “I didn’t follow all his moves.”

But all these years later it might have the best move for him, especially from the vantage point he has now, as the kind of low-strikeout, high-contact, can’t-shift-him hitter every team wants these days, the kind of hitter who has performed well against the best pitching on the biggest stages and who might have his best chance yet at a ring this year.

“As my career has unfolded, I’m very thankful I got to play with the Rockies and I got to play with Nolan [Arenado] and [Trevor] Story and [Troy Tulowitzki] and some other great players,” he said. “I just feel I really developed as a player, and I really got better over those years.”

As for the Cubs, well, here they go again, starting over, a decade after screwing up with LeMahieu during that first tanking process.

LeMahieu didn’t get enough time with the Cubs after breaking into the majors in 2011 to become an authority on the franchise, much less the practices of the Epstein-Hoyer regime.

But he knows what makes his current big-revenue team in New York holds so much appeal and inspires so much loyalty to so many players and fans (like those at the hockey game).

“There’s a different expectation here than pretty much anywhere else,” he said. “It’s World Series or bust. We’re not just trying to make the playoffs. We’re trying to go all the way. It’s a different mindset than a lot of places.”

Maybe even an old, vaguely familiar place or two.

“I’m still jealous I wasn’t there for the 2016 team, because that would have been a lot of fun,” LeMahieu said. “But everything happens for a reason.”

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