There was a time not too long ago when the Yankees looked forward to having the heir to Derek Jeter‘s position around for a decade. Not so much, anymore.
When Didi Gregorius stepped into the shoes of Derek Jeter to begin the Yankees 2015 season, no one could predict what the team was getting. Almost seamlessly though, Gregorius made his own mark at shortstop by piling up season after season with the last one always better than the previous one.
A quintessential Yankee and a fluent speaker of five languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Gregorius never took a misguided step on or off the field. In fact, at one point Didi Gregorius drew a good portion of “votes” from fans promoting him as the next Captain of the Yankees, and no one from the Yankees, you’ll recall, dismissed the idea.
Lately, though, it seems the Yankees have a problem doing simple math. And somehow, when they add 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, they still wind up with two as an answer. I’m talking, of course, about the left side of the infield where they have Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki just added today (more on that later), plus the proverbial elephant in the room who insists he’s a shortstop, Manny Machado. Not yet a Yankees, but lately presumed to be a shoo-in to wear the Pinstripes, Machado adds the fourth element to our lopsided equation.
The Yankees action today in bringing on board Tulowitzki for the major league minimum salary of $555,000 is almost too much to digest – as in – there could be multiple reasons for the Yankees making this move.
One possibility is that Brian Cashman is making an innocent move to better the team, and Tulowitzki is merely an insurance piece at a very low price. No harm, no foul for Didi Gregorius in that case since Tulowitzki would just be keeping the seat warm for him when he returns from Tommy John, mid to late summer.
Or, does the signing mean the Yankees do not intend to sign Machado, going instead with Tulo, Didi, and Andujar, with a wish and a prayer that somehow both Tulowitzki and Gregorius bounce back smoothly from their injuries? Oh yes, did I forget to mention that Tulo, due to a heel surgery, hasn’t stepped on a field in a year-and-a-half?
And then, of course, there’s the scenario in which the Yankees do indeed sign Machado to a multi-year deal, and Machado insists, and the Yankees give into, the diva’s insistence on playing shortstop, creating the proverbial “writing on the wall” for Gregorius. You see through my bias, right. But that’s only because Manny Machado, wearing the Pinstripes, would change the face of the Yankees forever.
That leads us to the fourth, but I won’t say the final scenario because there can be others that are not as transparent. But it’s the one that troubles me most, and also the one that has Didi Gregorius not being offered an extension by the Yankees, once thought to be a given, and instead merrily sent on his way when he reaches free agent status at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
From the Yankees perspective, Didi Gregorius has become rather expensive. Last season, Gregorius earned a little more than $8 million. His third and final season of arbitration is coming up in February, and despite appearing in only 134 games before the injury, he hit 27 home runs (his highest total to date), drove in 86, while putting only a dent in the team’s ridiculous strikeout total, fanning just 69 times in almost 600 plate appearances.
A bump based on that production to at least $10 million from the arbiter this season is well within range, and could even go higher depending on the number Gregorius comes in with (Remember: It’s an either/or situation for the arbiter).
Once that happens, then the Yankees or any other team wishing to sign Gregorius as a free agent is likely facing something attuned to a five-year deal (Gregorius will only be 29 when the deal is finalized) worth $13-15 million per season. This, while the Yankees look at the next crop of free agents in the Class of 2020, and say, “Sorry, Didi. We appreciate what you’ve done, but we’re moving on.”
As I mentioned before, there are so many facets to what the Yankees are doing, or maybe not doing as in the case of Machado, that as fans, we’d have to be a fly on the wall in Brian Cashman’s office to really know the Yankee’s thinking. And even then, that could change in a millisecond.
As a fan who follows the team strictly from the outside looking in, I’ve come to trust virtually everything Brian Cashman does as the Yankees GM and chief provider of personnel.
So maybe not this year with Didi sidelined most of the season, but certainly next year, there’s nothing I see wrong with the tandem of Andujar and Gregorius on the left side of the infield. Unless that is, you’d want to see the Yankees sign Nolan Arenado to play third base in 2020, flipping Andujar afterward for prospects or a starting pitcher in a trade. I’d go for that too.
But the Yankees are a team losing Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia as the glue in the clubhouse after this season. Save for Masahiro Tanaka and Gary Sanchez, neither of whom can speak English; Didi Gregorius remains a focal point within the team and its clubhouse.
We’ll see how it turns out, but I shudder at the way this whole thing is unfolding…
Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball (Thank You For Sharing)