Throughout the course of the off-season, I’ll share my vision for the 2019 Yankees. This article is the second in this series. You can see the other articles here:
Today we will look at shortstop, and by default, second base as well.
I believe my plan for shortstop (and second base) is one that will help the Yankees in both the long and short term. This plan will make the Yankees a better team in 2019. It will also help keep a strong up-the-middle dynamic in place for the Yankees in spite of the fact that they really cannot count of Didi Gregorius in 2019 following his Tommy John surgery. I think the plan is balanced, it is smart, it sets and maintains a strong foundation up-the-middle, and it will help lead to sustained success.
The problem is that, in my heart, I don’t like the plan. Logic, to me says that this is a great plan. My heart tells me otherwise.
I’ll cut right to the chase, my plan does not include Didi Gregorius in 2019…or beyond. In order to make my plan a reality. Didi’s days in New York would be, for all intents and purposes, over.
And this makes me sad because Didi Gregorius is one of my favorite Yankees.
Before the news came out that Didi was injured and needed major surgery, I was in favor of giving him a contract extension and having him as the Yankees shortstop for the next five years, absolutely. Unfortunately, the injury changes everything. Radically.
Too often the Yankees don’t seem to understand the negative impact of just hoping for the best when it comes to injuries. They seem to minimize the length of time it will take a player to return from an injury. They also seem to minimize the impact of the injury on the player. It’s almost like they expect a player who returns from an injury to be in mid-season peak form the moment he returns to the lineup. That rarely happens. Because we have seen this dynamic play out so often, my fear is that the Yankees will not treat the injury to Gregorius as seriously as they should with the hope that he returns ahead of schedule and that he immediately begins playing superior defensive shortstop and is a middle-of-the-order power bat by mid-season. I just don’t see that happening.
(I hope I’m wrong about this, because I want Didi to return and be great, but I also think it is fool-hearty to count on this.)
I am also afraid that, because the Yankees seem to always take a far too optimistic view of players returning from injury that they will go into 2019 with a rotation of Tyler Wade, Ronald Torreyes, Adeiny Hechavarría, Neil Walker, and the like moving those players in and out as place holders. This would be a disaster for the Yankees’ championship hopes. Those players will not help the Yankees win consistently.
I fear, as we watch a series of replacement level (or worse), shortstops or second basemen that we’ll also be treated to optimistic injury reports all season:
“Didi Starts Throwing, He Could Be Ahead of Schedule…”
“Gregorius Optimistic About July Return.”
“His Bat Is Still Alive - Didi Powers Bombs in Simulated Game”
We’ll see these reports as the calendar turns from June into July, and then into August. I hate to say it, but there is a very real, very real, possibility that Didi won’t play at all before August - or even after. A team looking for a championship cannot put their hopes on a player returning from a major injury and being an impact player as soon as he comes back. A team looking for a championship also cannot try to replace an impact player with replacement players for at least half (but probably longer) of the season. That is a recipe for disaster.
Also, we all saw, far too often in 2018, the sad truth that the Yankees “super powerful offense” wasn’t always super or powerful. Sometimes it wasn’t even much of an offense. The Yankees cannot afford to carry a weak bat at shortstop to replace Didi Gregorius by saying or hoping that the rest of the line-up is so good, that the Yankees can afford a weaker bat until Didi comes back. I don’t buy that at all.
If the Yankees want to contend for a championship in 2019, they must treat this injury as one that totally changes the dynamic of the team. It is a game changer. It is unfortunate. Didi has been a great Yankee, but the game and the dynamic has changed.
The Yankees must treat this situation seriously and aggressively.
The following is a reasonable and effective plan that will secure shortstop (and second base) for the next many (many) seasons. I think this plan is essential for the Yankees if they want to contend. I’ll deliver my plan in a bulleted list:
Make Gleyber Torres the Shortstop - Torres is a natural shortstop. For the Yankees it made sense to play him at second base to keep Didi Gregorius, an excellent player, at short. With Didi out of the equation, the Yankees must take their best shortstop option and put him there.
Once He Moves, He Stays - This is where I think the Yankees must make the commitment. Once he moves, Gleyber Torres stays as the shortstop. Gleyber Torres is a rare talent. He had an outstanding rookie year. He is an elite talent with a bright future. I don’t believe teams should fool around with elite talents. Once Torres moves back to his home at shortstop, I believe he needs to stay there. Permanently. This is the part that hurts…that means that Didi Gregorius’ days as the Yankees shortstop are over. I don’t think it does Gleyber Torres any good to be moved from second base to shortstop back to second base and then maybe back again to short. He is the future. Once he goes to shortstop, he must stay there and he must be the fixture there for a long time.
What’s On Second - Again, I don’t want a rotation of replacement players or fading stars at any position. The goal isn’t to maintain or place-hold, it is to win. Once Torres moves to short, permanently, the Yankees need a second baseman. They need a permanent second baseman. As they look to this position, they also must keep in mind that their line-up is way too right-handed. Way too-right handed. (Maybe I should repeat this a third time.) The loss of Gregorius could make that more so. The loss of Gregorius weakens the left-handed power in the line-up. Without Didi, who is the power lefty bat? (This is a big reason why the Yankees also must get Bryce Harper. Yankees teams win with lefty power. Manny Machado would another righty bat - further hurting the balance. This is an easy choice. Harper over Manny.) As such, the Yankees need a young, quality, left-handed hitting second baseman. They don’t need a place-holder that might tempt them to move Torres back to second in 2019 or 2020. They need a permanent second baseman.
Enter SCOOTER GENNETT - There is a top-tier second baseman that is reported to be available by trade. Over the last two years, Gennett has hit a total of 50 home runs. He is an average defensive second baseman, whose bat will more than make-up for the loss of Didi Gregorius’ power (in that same period, Gregorius hit 52 homers). Over the last two seasons, Gennett has slashed .303/.351/.508 compared to Gregorius’ .277/.326/.486. Scooter Gennett is the answer to replacing Gregorius. He is young, he is a star, he is available, and he makes the Yankees a better team. Get Scooter Gennett. Period.
The Red Sox Know How To Move On - I love that the Yankees are so sentimental. I am too. As a fan I can be that way. The GM can’t be. Over the years, we have seen the Red Sox jettison major players when they no longer looked like they would be contributing to wins - the bottom line. This includes Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, and so many others. The Red Sox have done a great job at staying focused on the ultimate goal - winning. The Yankees have not done as well in that realm. At all. If I was the GM, I’d have to look harder at the Red Sox model, it’s been working better this century than the Yankees’ approach.
I wish all of this were not so. I wish Didi Gregorius never got hurt. It was my hope that we’d see another five to six quality years out of Didi. I love how Didi begins his Tweets (“Start Spreading The News…”). Didi has been a great and fun Yankee.
Unfortunately, his injury changed everything.
You know who was also a great Yankee who helped the Yankees to three World Series as a core player and was considered on of baseball’s better players (in fact, he once even led the league in homers and another time in triples - and in three different seasons had MVP consideration)? Yes. You know it. Wally Pipp. People forget (or don’t know) what an excellent player Wally Pipp was. Pipp was a Yankee for eleven years. And then… he got hurt.
Say it ain’t so Didi.
But it is.
I wish this plan didn’t make so much sense, but it does, and if I were the GM, Gleyber Torres would begin his reign as the Yankees’ shortstop. And Scooter Gennett would be brought in to man second base for the next long while.
My 2019 Yankees as reported in this series thus far:
MGR - Aaron Boone
2B - Scooter Gennett
SS - Gleyber Torres
3B - Miguel Andujar
LF - Bryce Harper