One of the most beloved Yankees of the recent era has moved on. Didi Gregorius, after not being presented with a qualifying offer from the Yanks, has signed with the Phillies for one year and $14 million. His departures brings an end to Yankees victory tweets, wonderful postgame handshakes with Gleyber Torres and some of the most clutch home runs in the Yankees’ recent postseason appearances.
Gregorius, coming off a shaky season following Tommy John surgery, was a bit of a question mark given how he performed after the major surgery (just an 87 OPS+ and 0.6 WAR). After the terms of his deal were revealed, however, it became more difficult to figure out why the Yankees didn’t offer something similar in an effort to retain the 29-year-old for another year.
The benefit of bringing back Gregorius for minimal cost and without a long-term commitment stretches beyond what he’s done for the franchise and the influence he clearly has had in the clubhouse. Gregorius represents an area of need for the Yanks, who sacrifice valuable infield depth with his departure. Unless the Yankees add another infield piece, the Opening Day shortstop will be Gleyber Torres (his natural position), with DJ LeMahieu at second, Luke Voit at first and one of Gio Urshela and Miguel Andujar at third.
Backup options could be Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and other underwhelming choices. The starting infield looks solid, but if last season taught us anything, it’s the fragility of a depth chart. Remember when it seemed like LeMahieu wouldn’t have a clear everyday fit on the Yanks once Gregorius came back from the IL? That was before Troy Tulowitzki (okay, that one was predictable), Andujar, Greg Bird and eventually Voit all went down with injuries. Should the Yanks run into injury trouble again in 2020, Gregorius would have been an incredibly valuable player, especially at one year and $14 million.
There’s also the third base conundrum, or the potential one should Urshela prove to not have staying power, at least not at the level in which he produced last season. Was his rough September (65 wRC+) a sign of things to come, or just a prolonged slump? Will Andujar improve defensively, and will he be able to replicate his rookie season after recovering from a serious injury? Should those options not pan out, LeMahieu could have been a good bet to move to the hot corner, with Torres moving back to second and Gregorius at shortstop.
The Yanks surely had concerns about Gregorius following his Tommy John surgery, but it takes time to come back to form from such an injury. Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager underwent the operation at the end of April in 2018, and after just an 89 wRC+ in his first full month back, he bounced back to post a 118 wRC+ over the first half of the season. It’s not hard to imagine Gregorius returning to a much closer version of his old self in 2020.
Gregorius’ injury halted a trend that saw the shortstop improve offensively each season, peaking with a career-best 124 OPS+ in 2018. Those kind of numbers, even if there’s a slight decline in 2020, are well worth a one-year deal, especially for a player who is proven to be comfortable in New York and a solid defender. Perhaps the Yanks were keeping the payroll as clear as possible for Gerrit Cole, but for the amount wound up signing for, it seems like the Yanks should have been more involved with Gregorius. Cole’s contract already puts the team over the luxury tax, so why not sign a solid contributor to a one-year deal? For the Yankees, it seems like a missed opportunity.