With the New York Yankees already crowed infield, parting ways with shortstop Didi Gregorius was a tough decision that had to be made.
By doing so, Gregorius will now officially become available on the open market to sign with any interested team. This also very likely means that Gregorius’s time with the Yankees is seemingly over.
While the decision to let Gregorius walk was likely a tough choice for general manager Brian Cashman to make, the Yankees just couldn’t take the risk of him actually accepting the qualifying offer.
There’s also a very high possibility that Gregorius would have taken the one-year offer of $17.8 million. This past season, Gregorius was paid just under $12 million and the 29-year-old definitely didn’t earn the double-figure payday from the Yankees. Coming off a shortened season in which he only played in 82 games, Gregorius didn’t exactly perform that well when he returned from his Tommy John surgery.
During those 82 games, Gregorius produced 14 doubles, 16 home runs, 61 RBI, .204 ISO, .237 BABIP, 84 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR and a miserable slashing line of .238/.276/.441/.718, as well. Gregorius also generated his lowest line drive rate (18.4%) since his 2012 season with the Reds, where he recorded a 13.3% rate.
All these numbers above indicate that Gregorius could be starting to decline as the shortstop is about to enter his age-30 season in 2020. So, it’s not surprising to read that the Yankees are declining the option to send a qualifying offer Gregorius’s way.
If the Yankees were to give a qualifying offer to Gregorius, and if he were to accept, then Cashman would have an even bigger log jam in the infield heading into free agency. With the emergence of infielder Gleyber Torres and the outstanding performance from DJ LeMahieu, the Yankees just don’t have room for Gregorius anymore.
The Yankees also can’t move LeMahieu away from second base either, due to the log jams at third and first base as well. Currently, Gio Urshela, who recorded a 3.1 fWAR this past season, is slated to be the everyday third baseman next season. Young slugging third baseman Miguel Andujar should also be returning from his injured shoulder at some point next season as well.
Moving LeMahieu to first base also isn’t an option either, as the Yankees already have Luke Voit, Mike Ford and Greg Bird as viable options for the position. Even if Ford and Bird are unable to sustain consistent production over a full season, Voit if healthy, would remain as the everyday first baseman through the 2020 season. So, keeping Gregorius around would have just created even more headaches for Cashman this offseason.
Ultimately, the rapid development of Torres is what made the Yankees feel comfortable about deciding to move on from Gregorius. In just two seasons in the majors, Torres has already shown that he’s quite capable of becoming not just the everyday shortstop, but also the leader of the infield for the Yankees going forward.
The soon-to-be 23-year-old split 144 games between second base and shortstop this past season. Despite committing 11 errors at shortstop in 2019, Torres actually performed considerably better than Gregorius at shortstop this past season. With Gregorius still recovering from TJ surgery through the first half of the season, Torres started 73 games at shortstop and recorded a respectable 1 DRS, -2.1 UZR and a -4.7 UZR/150.
At first glance, Torres’s defensive numbers at shortstop may have some people doubting his capability of becoming the everyday shortstop. But the reality is that Torres’ defense is only going to improve as he ages. Compared to Torres, more people should be concerned about Gregorius’s defense through next season. This past season, Gregorius started 78 games at shortstop and committed six errors and recorded a very troubling -6 DRS, 0.2 UZR and a 0.1 UZR/150.
With Gregorius set to enter his 30s, his defensive efficiency is surely about to decline even further over the next few seasons. Not too mention, that Cashman and the Yankees will likely save around $10 million next season by letting go Gregorius and moving Torres over to shortstop. During the 2019 season, Torres was paid just over $605k and he will likely only be paid somewhere around $1 million next season, as he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2021.
Despite all the advantages of moving on from Gregorius, the fact remains that “Sir Didi” will always remain a part of the Yankees’ franchise and that this absolutely wasn’t an easy decision for Cashman and his staff to make. Gregorius will always be remembered as the player who was brought in to replace the iconic Derek Jeter. Over his five seasons with the Yankees, Gregorius was continuously a player that Cashman and his staff believed in, which is especially why the Yankees completed a three-way traded to bring him to the Bronx back in December of 2014.
Even though this surely wasn’t an easy decision, it was one that had to be made. The Yankees will definitely miss having Gregorius in their clubhouse next season. Although, at least the Yankees have yet another superstar in the making ready to take over at shortstop in 2020.