Murti: Yankees Can't Let Didi Gregorius Hit The Open Market

Shortstop Is Key On The Field, In The Clubhouse

Sweeny Murti
August 14, 2019 - 10:40 am
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What Didi Gregorius did is pretty easy to forget, now that we’ve seen the player he’s become.

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“He was taking over for one of the best players to ever play the game, and to do what he’s done, it’s been incredible to watch,,” CC Sabathia said. “I mean ... man, it’s insane. Just that alone, he deserves all the credit in the world, and now along with being one of the top five shortstops in the game. It’s crazy.”

“Obviously, everybody knows how great (Derek Jeter) was,” Brett Gardner said. “I can’t imagine what it was like for Didi stepping into this city, this organization and this clubhouse. ... It's pretty impressive to see.”

This was how the two longest-tenured Yankees described their shortstop last season as Gregorius got off to a red-hot start with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, was the American League Player of the Month in April and by season’s end became the first Yankees shortstop ever with three straight 20-home run seasons.

Didi Gregorius throws out Minnesota Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar for the final out of the game during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium.
USA Today Images

Now, he is just months away from free agency. Can the Yankees afford to let him go? In fact, it might make sense to sign Gregorius to an extension before the end of the season.

Sure, they have Gleyber Torres, who slid over to shortstop nicely while Gregorius missed the first 61 games of this year recovering from Tommy John surgery. And DJ LeMahieu would be just fine at second base, but he’s signed for only one more season after this.

The Yankees' best infield alignment still has Didi as its anchor. So how much might it cost to sign him? 

The Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts established a new high for shortstops by signing an extension before this season for six years, $120 million ($20 million average annual value).  Bogaerts is three years younger than Gregorius, and from 2016-18 compiled a 13.0 fWar (Fangraphs) compared to 11.3 for Gregorius. Didi has a slight edge in bWar (Baseball-Reference) over the same period, 10.1 to 9.8.

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Even if you concede that Bogaerts is the better player, it’s not by a wide margin. The fact that he will be entering his age-30 season in 2020 would probably keep Gregorius from getting the six-year deal like Bogaerts did. But it’s not hard to imagine him in the same AAV neighborhood of $15 million to $20 million per year. 

What makes Gregorius such an attractive option to secure isn’t just the straight-forward statistical data. There is that hard-to-quantify, “can he play in New York?” test that every player must pass. Didi did it with flying colors.

“Honestly, anybody that’s ever come here, I don’t think anybody ever had to do what he did,” Sabathia said. “We all struggled at the beginning coming here -- I did, everybody did. It’s just tough to come here and play. And to take over for Derek Jeter like that is insane! He just gets so much credit in my eyes for just doing that alone and taking Jete out of the conversation. Because if Didi wasn’t who he was, (the media) would still be in here talking to me about leadership, what are we missing since Jeter left and all that stuff. But we don’t because of Didi."

In a clubhouse that seems to be policed by Sabathia, Gardner and Aaron Judge, Gregorious’ influence is noticeable, perhaps never more evident than when the Yankees made their run to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in 2017. It was Didi who led the early comeback in the wild-card game against Minnesota with a three-run homer, and his two home runs off Cleveland's Cory Kluber in Game 5 of the AL Division Series propelled the Yankees to what is to date their only victory in a postseason series since 2012.

Gregorius is relentlessly positive in an environment that sometimes drags down even the most energetic players during a 162-game season. It’s another example of his leadership qualities that drive the Yankees clubhouse.

“He’s a guy that loves talking to everybody in the clubhouse,” Gardner said. “He’s not someone that’s closed off or unwilling to help others. He’s great with the young guys that come up.”

And now it’s time to keep him in a Yankees uniform beyond this year. There were a few smoke signals sent out earlier this year as Didi rehabbed his elbow. This was around the same time the Yankees extended Aaron Hicks to keep him from free agency.

If Didi is allowed to hit the open market, he will get offers, and maybe even one from the other side of town, as the Mets look to establish themselves again as World Series contenders. The Yankees might already have locked him up if the elbow injury from last fall hadn’t compromised the start of his 2019 season.

But now he’s back and doing the Didi things we are all used to seeing. And the fact that all this happened to the first guy the Yankees put at shortstop after Jeter’s retirement in 2014 is part of what makes Gregorius so special. 

“What he’s done already is a win,” Sabathia said. “Not even the numbers, all that’s extra. What he’s done as far as shifting the conversation from a post-Jeter clubhouse to now -- he made that happen more so than it just shifting. I think that’s more to Didi’s credit. Didi gets all the credit for that.”

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN.

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