Didi Gregorius started the 2018 season as one of the best players in baseball. Injury and hitting slumps meant the year ended in slightly underwhelming fashion for the Yankee shortstop, however.
Gregorius had Tommy John surgery on Wednesday after injuring his arm in Game Two of the Division Series. The Bronx Bombers ultimately lost the series in four and they announced the plan for Gregorius to have surgery soon after.
Aaron Boone was confident that his left-handed shortstop will return to the team at some point in 2019.
“We’re optimistic that he’ll be back at some point during the season, I don’t want to speculate too much on when.”
That uncertainty leaves the Yankees with a dilemma. Gregorius is not just the everyday shortstop, he’s the lefty who splits up the right-handed Yankee sluggers.
The Yankees were expected to be big players in this bumper free agency, particularly having reset the luxury tax this season. The absence of Gregorius – and struggles of starters – leaves the front office with more problems to solve.
New York might try and make do with a stopgap option. There are plenty of those, whether as a cheapish free agent or an offseason trade. The Yankees farm, even after trades for J.A. Happ and Zach Britton this season, is stacked. Without losing top guys like Estevan Florial and Justus Sheffield, Brian Cashman has the pieces to get deals done.
The Yankees were always going to be in running for Manny Machado anyway. Gregorius’ injury only heightens the chances that Machado lands in the Bronx. Machado could cover at short will Didi is out and shift to third thereafter. Miguel Andujar’s defensive issues suggest his future may belong elsewhere on the diamond and New York ducked under the tax threshold this year, enabling a big addition.
That’s the obvious, and costly, solution to the problem. Cashman – considering other additions he may want to make – may well look elsewhere.
The shortstop market behind Machado is not great. Current Yankee Adeiny Hechavarria is one option, but he provides very little offensively.
Moving Gleyber Torres to short while Machado is absent is the best move while they await Gregorius’ return (if free agency is the way they choose to go). Torres is not a great defensive shortstop, but the options for second basemen this offseason are better than at short.
Eduardo Escobar, who had a good walk year, is available. Escobar may not come cheap, but he has played second base in the past (admittedly not much) and would provide versatility off the bench once Gregorius returns as he is capable of playing the outfield as well as his favoured third base. The former Twin is also a switch-hitter, meaning he could break up all the right-handers.
Lowrie had a massive year, Cabrera was good with the Mets and rubbish with the Phillies, while Kinsler has been okay despite a poor start. LeMahieu is an elite defender but had a poor 2018 and has alarming home/road splits.
Marwin Gonzalez is one of the standout names heading for free agency. The versatile Astro will require a big salary, though, which the Yankees might not be keen to pay. Gonzalez, like Escobar, is a switch-hitter and is a superb defensive second baseman. He’s an asset to any roster. Money would be the issue.
No feasible option really stands out. They are all imperfect solutions, but that tends to be the way when you lose a star man like Gregorius.
Merrifield provides speed and can cover the outfield if required. Odor sorted his game out in the second half but is owed over $40 million across the next five seasons. Gennett had a monster 2018.
Odor and Gennett have an advantage because they are left-handers. Texas might be willing to move Odor’s committed money as they look to rebuild, too. The prospect cost for Gennett or Merrifield will probably be higher than Odor. The money might be an issue for Cashman, though, particularly if he wants to add a costly starter as well.
A deal for Jurickson Profar or Nick Ahmed is plausible. Either player would require less in the trade and are cheaper than Odor, while offering good defence at shortstop (meaning Torres could remain at second).
Marwin Gonzalez would be perfect for the Yankees. The Astros are not going to let one of their key World Series winners go easily, though, and the price might just be too high.
Escobar is a solid alternative, but again, the salary might put Cashman off.
Whether it’s a trade or a free agent acquisition, Gregorius’ surgery has asked questions of Cashman this offseason. There’s every chance Machado is the answer, but there are other players who could fill the Gregorius-shaped hole in their line-up.