Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez hit the Statcast home runs, but Didi Gregorius is the pulse of the New York Yankees.
It is amazing to think how far Gregorius has come since taking over for Yankees icon Derek Jeter at shortstop. He had yet to play a full MLB season when he arrived in New York, and there was a good deal of talk about Gregorius' inability to hit left-handed pitching. After his first month in the Bronx, the concerns that he could be a long-term solution grew.
Gregorius slowly silenced critics after the 2015 season's opening month, and turned them into avid supporters in 2016. This season, despite missing 24 games, Gregorius is snapping or within reach of personal bests in multiple offensive categories. He has produced FanGraphs WAR values of 3.1, 2.6 and 3.9 (and counting) since 2015.
Gregorius, who turns 28 just before next season, has two years left of arbitration before reaching free agency, which begs the question. Should the Yankees try to sign Gregorius to a long-term deal this offseason?
Potential contract terms
As for the deal itself, Gregorius is making $5.1 million this season. He is assured of getting another large boost via arbitration, likely into the $9-10 million range. With a similarly productive 2018 season, Gregorius could earn near $12-13 million in 2019.
A five-year deal would go through Gregorius' age-32 season, which is a fine spot for both the player and the club. The Yankees will believe it has received Gregorius' prime seasons, while he will feel he is young enough to garner another long-term deal.
Five years at $80 million could be a starting point for deal discussions.
Why Yankees might make an exemption
The Yankees generally stay away from these types of deals, however there are some reasons they might make an exemption.
Gregorius is at the onset of his prime, and with upward trajectory of his performance season over season, a long-term contract make senses on its face.
Gregorius' progression on the field has caught up to the type of teammate and clubhouse presence he has been. He is a humble player, pushing any personal recognition onto his teammates whether that's in an interview or with one of this infamous postgame tweets. Gregorius is the epitome of the player that a team builds around.
The Yankees, who have large contracts coming off the books after this season, are also currently playing with young players that cost the club very little in salary and more are on the horizon. If the deal was for five or six seasons, the Yankees would be just two or three seasons into arbitration for players like Judge, Sanchez and Luis Severino (assuming they'll all still be in New York at that time).
Why the Yankees might hesitate
Gregorius makes some dazzling plays in the field, but he also seems to be either out of range or unable to reach balls outside the normal fielding zone, which is only going to get more difficult as time moves on. Defensive metrics waiver in their measure of Gregorius' work. In his three seasons in New York, Gregorius has posted negative values in defensive runs saved twice. Gregorius owns a UZR-150 of 4.7 this season, but a -3 value in DRS.
The Yankees have MLB's number one prospect, Gleyber Torres, who could be ready to contribute to the big league club at some point in 2018. Torres is a natural shortstop, but the Yankees have tried to provide Torres time at other infield positions in order to give him a chance to crack the big leagues at a different position.
One might suggest that the Yankees could shift Gregorius to third base (where he has the arm strength to succeed), leaving Torres to take over shortstop whenever he is deemed ready. That doesn't solve everything because the Yankees have Miguel Andujar, the team's No. 6 prospect and a September call-up, waiting in the wings at third base.
The Yankees would have to decide whether they believe Gregorius can continue to produce the type of power numbers he has the last couple of seasons, something they have lacked at third base. Gregorius would likely be a better fielder than Andujar, but the youngster could produce prodigious power from the position.
While it is not like the Yankees to buy out arbitration and free-agent seasons in order to begin long-term deals with their players, they might consider Gregorius the outlier. Seldom does a player who performs at a high level and exhibits the professionalism and leadership in the clubhouse as Gregorius has demonstrated the last couple of seasons.
A long-term deal for Gregorius, a player still in the early part his prime seasons, could cement one of two positions as they decide the fate of players in the minor leagues, while not hindering their payroll.