Gone are the days of Derek Jeter. The beloved Yankee shortstop retired after the 2014 season, leaving the Yankees captain-less. With the arrival of young, exciting new players like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, among others, Yankees fans began to wonder-who will the next captain of the New York Yankees be?
Will it be a Baby Bomber like Judge, Sanchez, or Severino? Nope.
Well, then who can it be?
The next captain of the New York Yankees will be Didi Gregorius.
When Jeter retired following the 2014 season, the Yankees realized that they needed a shortstop to replace the future Hall of Famer, and Stephen Drew simply wasn't going to cut it. So the Bombers acquired Gregorius in a three-team trade with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. They sent Shane Greene to Detriot.
Brian Cashman has been somewhat of a polarizing figure throughout his tenure as Yankees GM, but this trade might honestly be the most underrated trade Cashman has ever made. The Yankees have plenty of relievers in the farm system, and young arms are frequently dealt at the trade deadline. Initial media reactions, however, were underwhelming, to say the least. You can see the Pinstripe Alley post here. Everyone seemed to think that Didi was simply a replacement for Derek Jeter.
That's how he was treated in his first season in pinstripes. During the first 10 games of the Yankees 2015 season, Didi didn't hit 9th in the lineup three times-in two of those games, he didn't even play. Expand this to 25 games, and Didi doesn't hit above the 9 slot while not appearing in three more games. Guys like Gregorio Petit, John Ryan Murphy, and Garrett Jones frequently hit above him in the lineup.
In 2015, Gregorio Petit had a WAR (wins above replacement for the non-baseball geeks in the room) of -0.5, meaning that when he started, the Yankees scored .5 less runs per win than if a replacement was in. Garrett Jones had a WAR of -0.7, meaning that Yankees were losing out on almost a run per win when he started. Didi, on the other hand had a WAR of 3.3, meaning the Yanks were scoring 3 more runs per win. While Didi wasn't acquired for his hitting skills, he certainly deserved better. Didi's batting average was almost .100 higher than Petit, yet he freqently hit behind him in the lineup.
In comparison, let's look at 2017. These are a little skewed, as Didi spent some time on the DL due to an injury in the World Baseball Classic. His first game back was the Yankees' 10-inning, 14-11 thriller of a win against the Orioles. In that game, coming off an injury, Didi hit 6th in the lineup. This was ahead of two notable players-Aaron Judge and Greg Bird. However, Bird was dealing with injuries and Aaron Judge had yet to become Aaron Judge, so we'll let this one slide.
A more recent example is the Yankees' 5-3 victory over the Mets on August 16. Didi batted cleanup and had a crucial 2-run double the put the Yankees on top. The Yankees have finally seen that Didi is more than just a "Jeter replacement"-he's an absolute star. In the last 10 games (as of me writing this), Didi has hit cleanup 6 times, 3rd once, 5th once, and 6th twice. He's in the heart of the lineup, and it has proven to work well. As of August 16th, Didi has the best batting average (.308), OBP (.334), slugging percentage (.501), and OPS (.835) of his career. He's also on track to hit more home runs than last year (20 through 2016, 18 through August 16th), despite missing a month of the season.
That's just the on-field stuff. Off the field, Didi is a great teammate. Every Yankee fan has seen his victory tweets. In every single one, he finds a way to highlight someone else's accomplishments. Take August 16th's tweet for example. Didi had a clutch double that ultimately gave the Yankees the win. However, he credited the offense for being on fire, Judge for hitting a solo shot, and the bullpen for holding the game. Not once did he take any credit, despite the fact that he deserved the most.
That right there proves that Didi is a team player. He plays for the name on the front of the jersey, not the (metaphorical) name on the back. He is the perfect candidate to join Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, and Thurman Munson, among others, as the captain of the New York Yankees.