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2022 Shortstop Targets? – Didi Gregorius

At the beginning of the offseason, Brian Cashman said the Yankees were not going to go into the 2022 with Gleyber Torres at shortstop. With a tremendous crop of free agent talent available, the Yankees missed out on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Javier Baez.

This week we’ll look at a few free agents and trade targets to fill the role.

Today we look at the case for and against bringing back Didi Gregorius.

 

Didi Gregorius: A Quick Overview

Didi Gregorius started his career as an international signee by the Cincinnati Reds all the way back in 2007. He made his MLB debut with the Reds in 2012 for all of 8 games as a 22-year-old before his time in Little Paris was over. Didi was then included as part of a 3-team/9-player trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks (this same trade sent Trevor Bauer to Cleveland and Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati). Didi’s tenure in Arizona was short lived and after another 2 seasons (2013-2014) he was included in another 3-team/4-player trade to the New York Yankees (this same trade sent Shane Green to Detroit and Robbie Ray to Arizona). Didi then spent the next 5 years with the Yankees (2015-2019) while providing many great moments. Reaching free agency for the first time in his career before the 2020 season, Didi signed a 1/$14 Million contract to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. That season saw some of his best offensive output in his career, which led Didi to sign a new 2/$28 Million contract with the Phillies in free agency in 2021. He has one year left for 2022 at $14.5 Million.

Over his career, Didi Gregorius has hit to a .259/.310/.427 (.737 OPS/97 OPS+) triple-slash with 954 hits and 133 Home Runs, and 511 RBI’s over 1,014 games. He’s also put in near 8,500 innings at shortstop to a -15 DRS and a +10.2 UZR. Combined with everything, he’s accumulated +18.3 bWAR and +18.9 fWAR over 10 seasons in the MLB.

In 2021, Gregorius hit to a career worst batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and OPS+ with a triple-slash of .209/.270/.370 (.639 OPS/71 OPS+), which unsurprisingly led him to a -0.8 bWAR over 103 games. His fWAR came out as completely neutral at 0.0, which is helped by positive defensive ratings (+1.8 DEF).

Gregorius has an interesting injury history as he missed time twice in 2013 due to a right elbow strain and a concussion, and then stayed healthy again until 2017 when there started to be yearly problems. In 2017 Gregorius dealt with a strained right shoulder, in 2018 he had a left heel contusion and at the end of the year had to get Tommy John surgery which kept him out for most of 2019 as well. Didi stayed healthy in 2020, but missed some time in 2021 due to a right elbow impingement. (He also missed some time for paternity. Congrats Didi!)

 

The Case For Didi Gregorius:

One of the hardest to quantify, hardest to predict, and hardest to anticipate is how a player who has not played in the New York market will survive the media. This is also one of the biggest positives for Didi Gregorius. He came to the Yankees immediately after their superstar shortstop Derek Jeter retired. So, not only did Gregorius have to deal with the New York media, but also their incredible expectations on him to replace Jeter. And, it’s safe to say that he passed the test with flying colors.

Didi Gregorius also went above and beyond handling the New York media as he became a fan favorite during his 5 years in the Bronx. His post-game tweets were a personal joy to follow, especially when trying to figure out which player would get each emoji. (Plus, the #StartSpreadingTheNews shoutout was cool too. I mean, that was him giving us free advertising…right?) It’s also safe to say that Yankees fans want Didi back because he was so beloved, he came up clutch often, and he helped energize the team.

Outside of his personality, there are also a lot of things to like about Didi when it comes to actually playing the game. A left-handed hitter, he would be able to take advantage of the short porch in right field of Yankee Stadium again (thus, a likely increase in offensive production). This would also help the Yankees balance out a full right-handed infield (currently: Urshela, Torres, Voit, LeMahieu). Didi has also been a positive defender at shortstop throughout his career.

Didi’s final positive for the Yankees would be that he has just one year left on his current contract with the Philadelphia Phillies at $14.5 Million. His trade value is also technically negative for the Phillies (especially if the National League does not adopt the Designated Hitter) which means that (hypothetically) the Yankees could ask them to eat some of the contract, include prospects, and/or help lower the cost for another asset (if there is anything interesting).

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The Simple Pro’s: Knows NYC, Previous Fan Favorite, Left-Handed Bat, Good Defense, Short-Term Contract

 

The Case Against Didi Gregorius:

It is a hard task to put together a cons list for a player who has a large amount of support from a fanbase because my rational and sentimental brain fight against each other. I am sure it is the same for fans reading articles like this because it is hard to disassociate a player from the memories we have of them in the past. But, there are plenty of reasons why Didi Gregorius is not the Yankees solution at shortstop for 2022.

It is nearly an expectation at this point that the National League is going to be adopting the Designated Hitter. Because of this change, a team like the Philadelphia Phillies- who were not built for a DH role- has essentially gained a lot of roster flexibility to keep around a good defensive shortstop while making up for the offense with another batter. It’s also highly likely that Didi progresses back to his mean offensive value.

Further more- and more importantly- the Philadelphia Phillies also don’t need to move on from Didi Gregorius at shortstop. At the MLB level they could move over Jean Segura but then they need to get another second baseman. Additionally, their top shortstop prospect Bryson Stott (#97 overall) has played just 10 games at Triple-A and could use more development time. So, Didi is actually in a great contract for them.

Didi Gregorius is also coming off his worse offensive season and has put up just 0.8 bWAR (2.3 fWAR) in the past three seasons. In order those seasons were his return from Tommy John surgery, a 60 game sample, and the final being a huge disappointment. It’s safe to say that going into his age-32 season, Didi isn’t going to show the same flashes of greatness that he did in his mid-20’s.

The injury history of Didi Gregorius is also concerning to me. He’s had many problems with his throwing arm- which already wasn’t the strongest to begin with- and as he gets older and naturally slows down it’s going to affect his defense. It’d be a risk to consider.

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The Simple Con’s: No Reason for Philadelphia to Move On, Recent Disappointing Seasons, Slight Injury Concerns with Throwing Arm

 

Ethan’s Thoughts:

How many times have the Yankees gotten burned on keeping around/bringing back old “fan favorite” talent? As much as I’d love to see Didi come back to the pinstripes, I’d much rather he stay away and not hinder the memories we have of him. It’s always so saddening seeing a former great and fun player struggle and disappoint.

To that same note, the standard that Yankees fans has for Didi Gregorius is not likely going to be reached by him again. Expectations are always higher in New York and expectations would be extremely high for Didi Gregorius because he’d been through it with excellence before.

I’m also not convinced that Didi is a net negative for the Philadelphia Phillies for it be an easy to make trade for the Yankees. He has more value to the Phillies as a player on their roster than someone to trade away for nothing because they are in a similar situation with feeling out a potential future MLB shortstop and they’ll likely have a boost to their roster if the adoption of the DH for 2022 happens in the NL.

Long story short, Didi Gregorius is not a realistic option for the Yankees to go after. I loved having Didi around, but I’d prefer he sticks around elsewhere in the MLB until his retirement. Think of him like Nick Swisher. He was fun to have around, the Yankees let him go at the perfect time, and the fun memories of Swishalicious helped him come back to the Yankees in the front office.

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