Depth in Major League Baseball is a funny thing. Teams always say they want more depth, but then when all of the reinforcements perform well, it creates a logjam and makes playing time hard to divvy up. In kind, it’s often made out as a “good problem” for a team to have.
Well, the Yankees have one of those “good problems” coming down the stretch and into this offseason. Should the Yankees ever stay healthy, they’ll have more qualified infielders than they have roster spots. Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu have become full-time starters. Luke Voit and Edwin Encarnacion make for an interesting first base split, along with plenty of DH time. It hurts whenever Gio Urshela has to sit, but there just aren’t enough reps for him to be a full-timer on this team.
Where does that leave Didi Gregorius? He’s clearly an everyday starter at shortstop and the unofficial leader of the Yankees’ infield. He’s also, however, a free agent this offseason. With the growth of Gleyber Torres into a potential superstar and the unexpected contributions of LeMahieu and Urshela, you could argue that the Yankees should let Gregorius go this offseason.
Doing so, however, would constitute a massive mistake by the Yankees. Gregorius is just too important to the Yankees to move on from this offseason. He hasn’t exactly helped his contract negotiations by having a bit of a slow year at the plate, thanks in part to an elbow injury that could have long-lasting impacts. Despite that, Gregorius has still had several big moments at the dish this year and looks to be rounding into form. That goes without even mentioning his stellar fielding and clubhouse presence.
The confusing state of MLB free agency has made it difficult to project contracts, but I’d be surprised if Gregorius doesn’t get at least a four-year deal. He’s the kind of player who’s a perfect fit in New York and is worth keeping no matter the price. This is not one of the times for the Yankees to get stingy like they have so many times in recent years.
Considering this year’s numbers alone, one might be able to argue that the Yankees don’t need Gregorius thanks to Torres and Urshela. In fact, Gregorius has the worst numbers of any qualified Yankees infielder this year in several categories:
That’s likely just small-sample-size noise, though. If one expands that chart to the last three years, Didi has the highest WAR of anyone on that list due to his effectiveness across the board. He’s definitely worth elite money as one of the top 10 shortstops in baseball.
Besides, if this year has taught the team anything, it’s that more depth is not a bad thing. Could you imagine going into next year with those seven guys (or at least six of them) on the roster? There aren’t any weak links. Injuries and regression happen, and having a consistent .275/.320/.480 guy who plays world-class defense is the best possible failsafe for guys like Urshela, Andujar, and Voit. The Yankees know what they’re going to get with Gregorius, which is not something they can say about everyone on that list.
The front office shouldn’t worry about dividing playing time if they kept most of the above infielders. Don’t forget, next year starts the age of the 26-man roster, which allows for an extra bench player. On the list of priorities for the Yankees this offseason, locking up Gregorius should be much higher than Encarnacion’s impending option, finding a fit for Andujar, and giving Urshela a bigger role. The Yankees would be losing a lot if they let Gregorius go, which is not something that seems to be on the table anyway.
Although technically the Yankees could still run out an effective infield without Gregorius next year, it wouldn’t be the best possible alignment. If the Yankees want to build a championship core, they’ll need to commit big money to keeping Gregorius at shortstop.