New York Yankees Didi Gregorius

Didi Gregorius deserves a reward for his great work on and off the field for the New York Yankees.

The New York Yankees’ sole priority this offseason needs to be re-signing shortstop Didi Gregorius.

That’s quite a random thing to hear. The whole point of the Yankees trimming payroll the last few years was to be active in the upcoming free agent market. Now, here’s some writer we don’t know from Adam saying Gregorius deserves more attention than Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

I get it, folks. I really do. Some of you are probably looking at me the same way the cantina bartender did R2-D2 and C-3PO in Episode IV. This guy wants to make Gregorius top priority over Harper or Machado? Get him out of here!

Sure, extending Didi Gregorius may not seem like the sexiest offseason priority, but to lose him could prove hurtful to the team’s bright future. The man has only gotten better as a player since putting on the pinstripes and deserves to stay on long-term for proper compensation. Not only that, but general manager Brian Cashman can also still afford to extend Gregorius and also be active in the free agent market.

That said, how could such an offseason go down? Well, let’s dig a little deeper and find out.

Impending free agency

The main reason behind extending Didi Gregorius this winter is because of his own impending free agency. The 28-year-old is earning $8.5 million in 2018 after hitting .287 with 25 home runs and 87 RBI last year, all career-highs. Gregorius also posted those numbers despite missing the first month of the season with a shoulder strain, so just imagine what could have been for his magical 2017 season.

Gregorius picked up right where he left off this season and is batting .270 with 22 homers and 74 RBI. He has hit .315 since July 1 and put together an incredible month of April to kick off the season. Since putting on a Yankee uniform, Gregorius has posted a line of .274/.318/.443 with 76 home runs and 287 RBI.

He has also proven a solid fielder at his position, posting a career UZR of 12.9. The point is Gregorius is more than just another lefty slugger in Yankee Stadium. At this point, he’s in a position to become a team icon at shortstop.

A great locker room guy

Gregorius’ greatest value to the team, however, may come from his amazing clubhouse presence. His fun personality has taken the Yankees by storm and his great on-field performance is just an added bonus.

I mean, come on. Just look at some of these postgame victory tweets:

And even now, as he sits on the disabled list recovering from a bruised heel, Gregorius finds a way to keep the fun going in the dugout with his recent stint in Baltimore on Saturday night.

Ladies and gentlemen, cue the 2018 version of “Thumbs Down” because Didi Gregorius is just that wonderful. His energy is absolutely intoxicating, and the team’s performance against Baltimore over the weekend shows it.

The Swisher Effect

Remember when the Yankees acquired Nick Swisher before the 2009 season? It seemed like a weird pickup, especially since it seemed Xavier Nady would be the team’s everyday right fielder. Sure, Swisher had a solid bat that slugged 23 homers for the Chicago White Sox in 2008, but he only hit .219. On Opening Day that year, it looked like he would be our fourth outfielder/platoon guy.

Cut to Nady suffering a season-ending injury early on, Swisher taking over in right, and the rest is history. Swisher went on to hit a modest .249 that year, but with 29 home runs and 82 RBI as the team’s hype guy in the clubhouse. He spent four years in The Bronx and though the Yankees only won a single World Series in that time, Swisher’s presence was instrumental in New York winning four consecutive AL East crowns.

Didi Gregorius has become this team’s equivalent of Nick Swisher. He takes his job incredibly seriously but also knows when to have fun. His postgame tweets have become the new “Swisher Salute” and have even earned him his own segment shoutout on the YES Network postgame shows.

The difference is that unlike Swisher, who was already 28 and well-established when he put on the pinstripes, Gregorius has come into his own as a player with the Yankees. He has entered the prime of his career with the team while Swisher, for all the good he did, left New York on the decline. He signed with the Cleveland Indians following the 2012 season and hit a meager .224 with 36 home runs and 104 RBI for three more years before retiring.

Given that Gregorius is a completely different player than Swisher was, Cashman needs to lock him down. And fast.

What about free agency?

Keep in mind, my saying the Yankees should extend Didi Gregorius this offseason doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least explore the free agent market. In my column on Brett Gardner last week, you’ll recall I more or less endorsed the idea of letting Gardner walk in favor of offering Bryce Harper a lucrative deal. This is a situation where the Yankees could, in fact, have their cake and eat it too.

Consider this. According to Spotrac, team payroll ahead of arbitration next year sits at about $86.3 million. That number could also drop if Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract is bought out. Now, consider that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have another year before they are eligible for arbitration. That should leave New York plenty of wiggle room to extend Gregorius, sign someone like Harper, and still remain under the luxury tax threshold.

Granted, New York could also opt to bring in Manny Machado and put Gregorius’ future with the team in jeopardy, but how can Cashman even think about that now? He isn’t a homegrown talent, but Didi Gregorius is still the heart and soul of this Yankees team. He has the type of energy that cannot be found as easily as apples on a tree, or hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or a great medianoche sandwich in Miami.

Didi Gregorius needs to be a part of this team for a good long time. That starts with Cashman approaching him about a new contract the second the season ends.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.