When the Yankees let Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances walk in free agency last winter, I was pretty bummed. Both players were key parts of the Yankees’ rapid ascent back to prominence, and both were capable of providing eye-opening moments on their days. While I understood letting Betances go after an injury-marred season, I was initially annoyed that the Yankees passed on Gregorius at such a reasonable price. Now the Yankees have a chance to right that wrong by reuniting with Sir Didi.
And yet, as much as it pains me, I must warn against pursuing MLB’s renaissance man. Here are the three main factors that should dissuade the Yankees from pursuing a reunion with their erstwhile shortstop:
1. He comes with several red flags
On the surface, Gregorius had a productive season with Philadelphia, slashing .284/.339/.488 with 10 home runs, a 119 OPS+, 116 wRC+, and 1.4fWAR. But a glance under the hood reveals plenty of cause for concern going forward.
Gregorius ranked among the league’s worst in quality of contact. His average exit velocity of 83.8 mph places him in the second percentile, and represents a more than four mph decrease from 2019. He sat in the eighth percentile in hard hit rate at 27.9%, and the 19th percentile in barrel rate at 4.2%
The poor contact Gregorius made resulted in him significantly outperforming his expected statistics. According to Statcast, Gregorius exceeded his expected batting average by 23 points, his expected wOBA by 44 points, and his expected slugging by almost 100 points. This does not bode well for the future, as these results suggest his production is almost certain to regress in future seasons.
2. DJ LeMahieu is an infinitely better option
Signing Gregorius all but takes the Yankees out of the running for LeMahieu, and that objectively downgrades the team from a talent standpoint. LeMahieu has been a top-10 hitter in baseball over the last two seasons, while Gregorius is right around league-average over the same time span. A reunion with Didi forces Gleyber Torres to slide back to second, leaving DJ without a position.
The Yankees may ostensibly bring Gregorius in to shore up the infield defense, but this claim now is dubious at best. Aside from the downgrade defensively caused by replacing LeMahieu’s glove with Torres’ at second, Gregorius isn’t any better than Torres at short. From 2017 to 2019, Gregorius registered -5, -7, and -14 Outs Above Average before improving to a still below-par -1 Outs Above Average with the Phillies.
The potential savings of signing Gregorius over LeMahieu this winter are far overshadowed by the offensive and defensive deficits that would bring to the roster.
3. Didi doesn’t seem too keen on the idea
I don’t know about you, but does it sound like Gregorius is still a little bit salty the Yankees didn’t re-sign him this past offseason? When Gregorius signed for the Phillies, he almost came across as offended the Yankees did not make it a higher priority of theirs to negotiate with him.
“Cashman made it loud and clear that (Gerrit) Cole was their priority. I think he only called once,” Gregorius said after signing with the Phillies. “That was it. Nothing else happened. If that happens, I have to look for a place to play.”
To be fair, Gregorius never gave the Yankees a realistic shot at re-signing him. He inked his pact only days after Gerrit Cole agreed to sign with Bombers, while New York made it abundantly clear that all other business would be put on hold until the Cole dealings were resolved. The Yankees agreed to retain Brett Gardner the next day, and who knows, maybe their attentions would have turned toward keeping Gregorius in pinstripes.
And now even a year later, it appears some of that resentment still lingers. “I don’t think they’d want me back in New York to be honest, right now,” was Didi’s response when asked what he thought about a potential reunion with his former club this offseason. He went on to explain that he saw Gleyber Torres as the Yankees’ shortstop of the future, but his answer stands at odds with Brian Cashman’s hesitancy to name Torres as the long-term answer at short.
Didi Gregorius will always have a place in Yankees fans’ hearts. He brought us countless signature moments, from his game-tying three-run homer in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game, the two dingers he hit off Corey Kluber in Game Five of the ALDS later that fall, and his grand slam in Game Two of the 2019 ALDS. But more than that, he gave fans a rare glimpse of the human side of the game, with his unabashed personality and ever-present smile. So let us cherish those memories, rather than let them be spoiled by a second marriage with a potential for failure.