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Could the Yankees non-tender Didi Gregorius?

A better move would be to sign the star shortstop to a contract extension.

Didi Gregorius is entering his final year before free agency while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Didi Gregorius is entering his final year before free agency while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery on October 17th to repair damage to his right elbow. Afterwards, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said that the star shortstop could return to action sometime between June and August. This is great news for Yankees fans, but this estimate appears optimistic.

I went back several years to research recovery time from Tommy John surgery on a player’s throwing elbow, and the average is about 18 months, while instances of returns in under a year are very rare. Granted, most recipients of the procedure are pitchers, so the sample size for position players is small. Still, the average recovery for non-pitchers is 12-16 months. I found one example in the last 10 years of a MLB position player who successfully returned to big-league action only eight months after the operation. Outfielder Carl Crawford was ready for Opening Day of the 2013 campaign following Tommy John surgery in August of the previous year.

With uncertainty surrounding his return, this led me to wonder whether the Yankees might non-tender Gregorius in order to save money. Although there is no indication that they are actually considering this, it has to be a concern. Didi is entering his final arbitration year and will be a free agent following the 2019 season.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the 28-year-old is in line to receive an estimated $12.4 million in arbitration this winter. Given ownership’s obsession with saving money and staying under the CBT threshold, Gregorius could end up being a budget-crunch victim.

The team has non-tendered players before in order to avoid paying them while they rehab. Nathan Eovaldi and former second-round draft pick Jacob Lindgren are two recent examples, and the pair were set to earn far less than Gregorius.

Although the CBT threshold is set to increase to $206 million this year, and the Yankees have a number of big salaries coming off the books, those players were productive and will have to be replaced if the team wants to remain competitive. Replacing or re-signing important contributors like David Robertson, CC Sabathia, and J.A. Happ won’t be cheap. Not to mention, the team hasn’t arrived yet, and they need to improve if they want to catch Boston. If the front office decides that the money Didi is due to receive would be better spent on a player who will contribute all year, he could become a casualty.

I think this would be a big mistake. Gregorius is a player on the rise, having improved every year since donning the pinstripes. In 2018, Didi produced a career-high 4.2 Wins Above Replacement, despite missing time to injury. He also broke his own franchise shortstop record by belting 27 homers, and achieved career highs with 89 runs scored and a .829 OPS. He improved on his previous career marks in both on-base percentage and slugging average.

Gregorius wielded an important middle-of-the-order left-handed bat in a righty-heavy lineup, while anchoring a young and inexperienced infield. To me, his value to the team goes well beyond his contribution in the box score. Didi is an important team leader and clubhouse presence.

Buying out Didi’s final arbitration year and signing him to a contract extension would be a much better move than non-tendering him and watching a competitor swoop in and snap him up in a heartbeat. Although the club rarely does this, the move wouldn’t be unprecedented. The Yankees extended Brett Gardner before he hit free agency, and they received great value from the deal.

Executing an extension with Didi likely wouldn’t help with the team’s 2019 budget, as he would almost certainly receive a contact with an average annual value of more than what he is due to receive through arbitration. However, an extension would give the club cost and roster certainty at an important position for several years. Not to mention, it would lock up a key member of the team for what promises to be his peak years of production.

How do you think the Yankees should handle the Didi Gregorius situation? Let us know in the comments section below.