By Louis Addeo-Weiss
Replacing a franchise icon is never easy, but when the New York Yankees acquired Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade between the aforementioned two and the Detroit Tigers after the 2014 season, little did they know that Gregorius would perform with the utmost professionalism and humility in the wake of Derek Jeter’s retirement.
From 2015-19, Gregorius’ 13.9 WAR ranked 10th amongst all shortstops, and his 101 OPS+ ranked 9th during that span.
However, Tommy John Surgery following the 2018 season cost him half of 2019, limiting him to 82 games played. In those 82 games, Gregorius slashed just .238/.276/.441 with an OPS+ of 87 – his lowest such mark since joining the Yankees.
Yes, while Gregorius’ return would give the Yankees lineup a much needed left-handed bat, particularly one that doesn’t possess the same knack for swing-and-miss as his former teammates Giancarlo Stanton (29.9 K%; 2018)* and Aaron Judge (31.5 K%; 2019), his low on-base percentage (career .318 OBP, 5.9 BB%) is far more concerning than hitters with the tenacity to strike out seemingly at will.
Now, with the shortstop set to receive a solid payday as he enters free agency at the age of 29, the Yankees must make the sound decision of letting the heir to the Jeter-throne walk, with plenty of justifiable reasons to do so.
For starters, the team has an influx of names vying for the four infield spots.
Luke Voit, despite his defensive woes, expects to be the team’s primary first basemen given his offensive upside (.378 OBP, 124 OPS+), though DJ LeMahieu, who looks to shift back to his original second base, should see some time at first during the season. In 2019, LeMahieu appeared in 40 games at first base for the Bombers, starting 28 of them.
The team also expects contributions out of Mike Ford at first base. Appearing in 50 games in his 2019 MLB introduction, Ford hit 12 home runs while posting a commendable .350 OBP and a stellar 137 OPS+. A trade of Voit could open the door for Ford to assume everyday duties at first.
As for Gregorius’ position, the Yankees have an in-house solution to fill the vacancy left by Didi in the name of Gleyber Torres.
It’s no stretch of the truth to proclaim Torres as the player with the higher upside – as evidenced by a 2019 season which saw the prized jewel in the trade that sent the later re-signed Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in 2016 slug .535 with 38 home runs, an OPS+ of 128, and 3.9 bWAR (baseball-reference WAR).
Torres also split the 2019 season between shortstop and second base, starting 73 games at short and 64 at second.
Torres has also shown, early in his career, to be proficient in the postseason, as evidenced by a slash line of .302/.362/.566. In the 2019 ALCS, Torres hit 2 home runs and drove in 6 in a series the Yankees lost in 6 games.
It is his presence, among these and other pre-existing factors, such as Torres’ current affordability and ensuing five years of club control (FA following 2024), why re-signing Gregorius isn’t in the team’s best interest.
Trying to allot playing time to Voit, LeMahieu, Ford Gregorius, Torres, Gio Urshela, and the returning Miguel Andujar would represent an unnecessary headache for manager Aaron Boone; not to mention, with the team looking to address the blatant issues in their starting rotation – with rumors swirling surrounding their interest in the big-name duo of Cole and Strasburg – investing in Gregorius would be counterintuitive at combating an issue largely responsible for the team’s three-consecutive seasons of pre-World Series exits.