Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Not long ago, it seemed assured that Didi Gregorius would remain a member of the Yankees' new core, not a homegrown player but one essential to their culture.
He had already effectively replaced an icon in Derek Jeter. Fans liked that he tweeted emojis. The front office liked his personality and production.
After a tough season returning from Tommy John surgery, Gregorius' future is far murkier. There are signs that the player and team are apart on value, and that other clubs are more likely to pursue him in free agency.
The Yankees still like Gregorius as a leader, with an internal evaluation that points to him as more of a comeback candidate than a player in decline. And Gregorius likes the Yankees, saying after the ALCS that he would like to return.
Perhaps all those warm feelings, plus the Yankees' need for lefty power, will lead to a reunion after all. But this one has become very difficult to project.
The Yanks front office is holding its intentions on Gregorius extremely close, but did telegraph one aspect of their valuation by declining to extend a qualifying offer. That told us that the team wasn't willing to take a flier on Gregorius for one year and $17.8 million.
The decision led to quick speculation that the team would re-sign Gregorius for less than that number, giving them additional luxury tax space and allowing the player a year to re-establish his health and productivity.
Not so fast on that. Word from Gregorius' side is that he does not think a "pillow contract," the term for a one-year deal to restore health or value, is necessary because he returned from the surgery in June.
Ultimately, the market will determine that, but with few free agent shortstops available, it's easy to see teams like the Brewers and Reds pursuing Gregorius.
MLB Network Radio's Steve Phillips suggested a scenario where the Indians trade Francisco Lindor (to the Yankees, perhaps?) and sign Gregorius to replace him. Gregorius is a proven player who would provide the Indians with a more affordable option than the superstar Lindor.
Even if the Yanks do not acquire Lindor, they are comfortable enough with Gleyber Torres at short, Gio Urshela at third, and DJ LeMahieu moving around. Luke Voit is a comeback candidate, as is Miguel Andujar.
That's a lot of infield depth, albeit without a plus defensive shortstop. Metrics don't consider Gregorius an elite defensive player, but a strong one -- and watching the games, we can see his athleticism and ability to captain an infield.
If the Yankees lose Gregorius and decline to pursue Lindor, perhaps they can add Jose Iglesias, or reunite with Adeiny Hechavarria. Both are free agents.
Maybe the Yankees bring Gregorius back on a multiyear deal with an average annual value lower than the qualifying offer.
But what was once a sure thing -- Gregorius becoming a mainstay in the Bronx -- is now, in the words of one industry source, "a very close call."