At long last, the cavalry is returning for the Yankees. Ironically enough, the first major player to return from the injured list is probably the one that most fans thought would come back last.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius is expected to return to the Yankees' roster Friday, giving the Yankees back one of their best overall players. It's been a long time coming for Gregorius, who will return ahead of schedule after October 2018 Tommy John surgery that threatened to sideline him until Independence Day.
Now that Gregorius's return is imminent, the Yankees have some questions to answer. They have to clear a roster spot and find time in the lineup for him without disrupting the chemistry that has fueled the Yankees to an AL East lead in his absence.
To simply get Gregorius on the roster, the most likely move is to either send down Thairo Estrada or cut Kendrys Morales. Although Estrada has been far more productive than Morales, there may not be enough playing time for him in an already-crowded infield that just added another starter.
Either way, the Yankees won't have any problems getting him onto the roster. The question comes with what Gregorius will provide and how the team will work him into the lineup.
Let's get this clear: Gregorius is a full-time starter, even with the heroics of other Yankees infielders. Gregorius offers the Yankees left-handed power, a historic staple in their lineup that has been missing in action this year.
Brett Gardner has eight home runs, but no other lefty-swinging Yankee on the active roster has more than one. Gregorius loves aiming for the short porch in right field, and he will add a much-needed jolt from the left side.
Gregorius is also one of the Yankees' most clutch hitters. He had the third-most hits on the team with runners in scoring position last year, an area that the Yankees struggled with last season but are dominating this year. Getting Gregorius' bat back can only help the Yankees' offense.
The "issue" is, how does manager Aaron Boone actually fit all of the players in the lineup who deserve to be in it? With Gregorius, the Yankees have five starting infielders for four spots. However, they'll find a way to make it work.
The team will likely ease Gregorius back with a healthy dose of days off for his first two weeks. His recovering elbow could also benefit from seeing some DH days where he doesn't have to throw, similar to how the Angels brought back Shohei Ohtani.
That'll still allow Gleyber Torres to play some shortstop in addition to second base, while Gio Urshela has locked down third base. DJ LeMahieu will play all over the infield, including some first base, but will rarely sit. Luke Voit will likely see more time at DH, which may not be a bad thing. It'll be a puzzle, but all five guys will likely play at least five games a week in some way.
Given how good the Yankees have fared without a chunk of their stars, some fans are weary of how the returning players will mesh back together with the new guys who have earned playing time. However, these "problems" usually have a way of sorting themselves out through injuries, slumps or other factors.
The fact of the matter is that the Yankees are a better team with Gregorius than they are without him. Yankees fans have waited a long time to salute "Sir Didi" this year, and he'll be back soon, flashing his trademark smile.