Due to a number of injuries, successful replacements, and surprise breakout seasons, the Yankees’ infield has a surplus of players entering the 2020 season. Some of that has, for the moment, changed with the decision not to offer shortstop Didi Gregorius this year’s $17.8 million qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.What once seemed as an automatic for Gregorius to remain in pinstripes, changed after he underwent Tommy John Surgery following the 2018 season.
It wasn’t all that long ago that everyone thought Brian Cashman was crazy after acquiring the Yankees’ Renaissance Man from Arizona in a three-team deal. This was the guy that was going to replace Derek Jeter? We heard he had a great glove but couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag, and then he struggled defensively to start his first season in the Bronx.
But, not only did Gregorius get his defense straightened, he developed into one of the better hitting shortstops in baseball. His accomplishments included becoming the first Yankee shortstop to hit 20 or more home runs in two consecutive seasons and he set the franchise’s single-season record for home runs at the position.
Gregorius also came through in the clutch. His 1st inning momentum-shifting home run in the 2017 Wild Card game vs. Minnesota jumps right out at you.
The Yankees’ Renaissance Man would be the first to tell you he had a subpar 2019 season. Three months of which were wiped out as he recovered from the aforementioned surgery.
He finished with the second-lowest OPS of his career, and with the exception of another big home run against the Twins, struggled at the plate in the postseason.
Not the best way to go into free agency for a player about to turn 30. On top of that, despite there being a dearth of free agent shortstops this offseason, there aren’t mean teams looking for shortstops either.
The easiest move would be for the Yankees to let Gregorius go, move Gleyber Torres to shortstop, and return super-fielder DJ LeMahieu to his normal second base position.
I will admit right off the bat that I am biased when it comes to Gregorius. Who else teaches themselves piano while on the 60-day IL?
But, that’s not the reason the Yankees should keep him. Here are some of them:
Torres is still making his way towards becoming a stellar defender. Except during Gregorius’ injury time, Torres hasn’t been an everyday shortstop since the 2016 season.
While the team has a glut of infielders, there are no other shortstops outside of Torres. The Yankees don’t currently possess a utility infielder that would back up the position if Torres became the go-to-guy.
There is another huge factor that plays into all of this. LeMahieu has only one year remaining on his two-year deal and will be a free agent after next season. Everyone loves the guy, but there’s no guarantee he will still be a Yankee in 2021.
To further my cause for bringing Didi back, below is a comparison of the top AL shortstops from the 2016-2018 seasons. They are Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, Houston’s Carlos Correa, and Sir Didi. Additionally, there is an extra line in each table showing Didi’s numbers for the 2019 season.
Marcus Semien is not included since prior to his breakout 2019 season, his offensive numbers were pedestrian, and his defense was shaky in the first two years of the three-year comparison. Andrelton Simmons, widely regarded as the best defender at the position, is not included due to his less than .700 career OPS.
This past April, Bogaerts (28 in 2020 season) signed a six-year extension worth $120 million. Lindor (26 in 2020) is under the Indians’ control through 2021, at which time his new contract will dwarf that of Bogaerts.
Correa (25 in 2020 season), like Lindor, is under the Astros’ control through 2021. He has been injury-prone the last three seasons, topping out at 110 games played in 2018. His new deal would be more in line with Bogaerts and could be for fewer years if he continues to miss time.
I’m all for the Yankees signing Gregorius to a two or three-year deal at a $14 million- $15 million annual clip. I’m basing that on my feeling that 2019 was a fluke, the importance of the leadership Didi brings to the team, and the ability to get him at a “bargain” rate.
Yankees’ infield: the corners
The Yankees have a load of corner infielders from Miguel Andujar and Gio Urshela at the hot corner to Luke Voit, Mike Ford, and dare I say it, Greg Bird across the diamond.
The future of that “fab five” could also determine how the Yankees proceed with Gregorius.
You hope that Voit’s struggles down the stretch had more to do with him not being fully recovered from an abdominal injury rather than his 2018 season being a fluke.
Ford showed tremendous promise as a left-handed slugger but it was a very small sample size.
Urshela had a breakout season that no one saw coming. Can he repeat his production going forward?
Andujar finished second in the 2018 AL Rookie-of-the-Year voting before his 2019 season was wiped out by shoulder surgery. Will Miggy be healthy next year? Can he improve his overall offensive game? With his defensive struggles and Urshela’s steady D, can he be moved to another position?
Don’t go there
There are some who think the Yankees should pursue Lindor, but that makes no sense at all. Lindor will cost a small fortune, both in his contract and in the amount of talent that would be sent in return to acquire him.
Despite Hal Steinbrenner’s assertion that the Yankees pitching staff is fine, that’s where the remainder of the Yankees money should be spent. The Yankees need Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg (who is likely to return to Nats.) That’s right, they are a necessity, not a luxury. The rotation averaged less than five innings a start in the playoffs. That led to an overworked bullpen and less than stellar results.
The Yankees are counting on a full year from Luis Severino, the James Paxton we saw down the stretch, and another solid season from Masahiro Tanaka. J.A. Happ owns the fourth spot in the rotation the and number five job is currently top for grabs.
Imagine signing one of the two available aces and moving Happ to the five-spot or trading him…and having Didi backing him up in the middle of the infield.