Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Didi Gregorius came to New York nearly five years ago tasked with replacing a pinstriped legend at a high-profile position. He was the shortstop-after-Derek Jeter, but he never seemed to let that looming shadow engulf him and he crafted a strong career as a Yankee.
Now, however, Gregorius is a free agent and it's hard to peg whether his future is in the Bronx. Will the Yankees, who saw the value of depth last season, bring him back even though they have a potential replacement on the roster?
Or is Gregorius, the best free agent shortstop, headed for a nice multi-year deal elsewhere, even after his disappointing return from Tommy John surgery this year?
Let's take a look at the cases for the Yankees keeping Gregorius or saying goodbye:
The Yankees did not make the $17.8-million qualifying offer to Gregorius, so they clearly do not value him at that price. He made $11.75 million in 2019, so perhaps they'd bring him back for something just above that number.
"They Yankees were right -- I don't think he's worth $17.8 million," said a scout from an opposing team. "If they can sign him for a lesser amount, I could see that."
Gregorius only played 82 games last season because of his recovery from surgery, and he wasn't the eye-popping player he'd been in the previous three seasons, when his power developed and he flashed terrific defense and a strong arm.
Is it fair to ding him for not being the same guy immediately, post-surgery? Probably not. Sometimes, we think players coming back from surgery are automatically their old selves as soon as they return. Perhaps Gregorius, who had evolved into a terrific player, deserves the benefit of the doubt. After all, he won't even be 30 years old until February.
"When you come back from an injury, you miss spring training, you're playing catch-up," the scout said. "I think that affected him. I think this year will be a better indication of whether he's on the worse side of 30."
From 2016-18, Gregorius had a .791 OPS, slashing .277/.319/.472. He hit 72 home runs and knocked in 243 runs. In 2018 alone, Gregorius smacked 27 homers -- a Yankee record for a shortstop -- and had an .829 OPS, both career highs. He's the only Yankee shortstop with consecutive 20-homer seasons (2016-18) and is tied with Jeter for most 20-homer seasons overall with three.
In his abbreviated 2019 season, Gregorius had a .718 OPS and a slash line of .238/.276/.441. He did hit 16 homers, though, so the power is still there.
Depending on how the Yanks choose to deploy their infield, signing Gregorius would let them keep Gleyber Torres at second, choose between Gio Urshela and Miguel Andújar at third and use D.J. LeMahieu at a variety of positions, including first base.
Keeping Gregorius would also add a needed lefty swinger to the Yankee lineup. Since Brett Gardner is also a free agent, the Yanks have just one left-handed hitter who had more than 163 plate appearances in 2019 on their roster -- Mike Tauchman.
And while there have been fan complaints about the sometimes all-or-nothing Yanks' offense, especially in the postseason, Gregorius has only struck out 274 times in 2,080 plate appearances over the last four years.
Finally, Gregorius is often given credit for being a clubhouse presence. His teammates seem to get a kick out of his strong emoji game and postgame tweets. Would his departure create a chemistry void?
The Yankees might already be prepared to let Gregorius leave. SNY's Andy Martino recently reported that there are some in the baseball industry that don't expect the Yanks to pursue Gregorius "very aggressively."
Well, the Yanks do have a ready-made replacement in someone who played the position nearly as often as Gregorius did in 2019 -- Torres.
Torres, already a star at 22, played 77 games at short and handled the position relatively well. He made 11 errors and had one defensive run saved, according to FanGraphs.
If Torres is the regular shortstop, that means LeMahieu becomes the starting second baseman. Maybe Andújar could take over first, with help from Luke Voit.
During a WFAN appearance this week, Yankee GM Brian Cashman praised Torres' work at short.
"That's his natural position," Cashman said. "We didn't miss anything while he was playing there. He was thriving for us, so at the very least we're comfortable with the roster we have, but the job continues to be 'What is the best deployment?'"
In the same appearance, Cashman said nice things about Gregorius, too, and noted that the club and player have choices to make.
Gregorius has been linked to the Reds -- his original organization -- multiple times already this offseason. MLB Trade Rumors predicted he would sign a three-year, $42-million contract with Cincinnati.
That estimate sort of squashes the theory that Gregorius would sign a one-year deal and try to build up his value. Sounds like his value is already there and perhaps another team will lock him up. Plus, Martino reported that Gregorius' camp has no interest in a so-called "pillow" contract.
There's also this: There's rampant speculation that charismatic Indians star Francisco Lindor will be available via trade this winter. He turns 26 on Nov. 14 and is two years away from free agency.
Lindor might not be affordable for Cleveland in the very near future. Do they try to deal him now to offer the acquiring team maximum control? That would sweeten the talent return.
And if Lindor, who had 74 extra-base hits, including 32 homers, and 22 steals last season, is available, shouldn't the Yankees be involved?