The Yankees have several pressing issues to look into this off-season. However, perhaps their most pressing issue in terms of clubhouse culture may revolve around whether or not the Bombers keep their shortstop in Didi Gregorius.
Didi Gregorius may be coming off his worst season as a Yankee, and that does not bode well given that he will be turning 30 in February. Despite this, the Bombers should seriously consider keeping Gregorius for at least a short-term deal, not only for his ability on the field, but for his leadership in the clubhouse and his overall presence.
Despite an overall strong tenure as a Yankee, Didi Gregorius did not have a top-tier free agent season. He only played in 82 games following off-season Tommy John surgery, and he returned only to post his worst offensive season in pinstripes. His OPS+ of 87 was two points lower than 2015 season, while his slash line (.238 average, .276 on-base percentage, .441 slugging percentage) was only behind his first year with the Bombers. In addition, Gregorius is losing range defensively (he had a negative defensive WAR and negative runs saved according to Baseball Reference). This is most likely why the Yankees did not offer Didi a qualifying offer - other teams would be unwilling to sign him and lose a draft pick.
Also, the Yankees do have excellent options to move on without him. Gleyber Torres might have had the second-best offensive season for the Bombers last year and can play shortstop. DJ LeMahieu can play second base all year while subbing occasionally at third, Gio Urshela and Miguel Andujar can man the hot corner, or Andujar can split time at first base with Luke Voit and Greg Bird. Thairo Etsrada and Tyler Wade can platoon on the bench while playing more infield – and outfield – positions than Gregorius.
All that being said, I still believe that it is in the Yankees best interests to keep Didi Gregorius, mainly because he is a key figure in building the Yankees’ culture. In her reason question-and-answer page for The Athletic, Lindsay Adler said that Aaron Boone describes Gregorius as one of the lowest maintenance guys on the team, and for good reason.
Didi Gregorius is a perfect clubhouse liaison, given his intelligence with the media and with people in general and his overall great vibe. This is a small detail, but it is hard to find a player on the field with a larger smile than Didi and that positive feeling flows throughout the clubhouse. Also, he is incredibly social media savvy, with his Yankees’ victory tweets with emojis and his Instagram posts with images of the top performers in each game creating a fantastic outreach opportunity for fans.
Something else to consider (that Adler articulates perfectly in her piece) - how often have we been talking about Derek Jeter since he retired? Didi Gregorius came into the clubhouse with the impossible task of replacing arguably the greatest shortstop in Yankees history and has provided the stability at the cornerstone position that the Bombers have needed over the past few years.
Having a healthy off-season may make all the difference for Gregorius. Shortstops rarely get Tommy John surgery, so that alone could have affected Gregorius’ overall game this year, especially throwing the ball. Granted, that should not affect plate discipline, but missing that much time for a player like Gregorius could make any player antsy or over anxious when batting.
In his previous three seasons, Gregorius had an average on-base plus-slugging percentage of .791 (on-base percentage of .319 and a slugging percentage of .472) and an OPS+ of 108. In addition, he averaged 3.4 wins-above-replacement per season over that stretch with a positive defensive WAR. It’s safe to give him a chance to get back to those numbers if he is healthy on a short-term deal.
Even if those numbers are not convincing enough, the main reason why Gregorius should stay is his impact on the locker room. Given the relatively young team around him, Gregorius has been a major factor in maintaining clubhouse stability during his tenure in the Bronx, which more than makes up for one bad season in which he was coming off an injury. The leadership he provides players like Torres, Andujar, and Urshela just to name a few will improve the Yankees’ performance tenfold.
All in all, Didi Gregorius is a crucial cog in the Yankees’ clubhouse. That – and a strong career in pinstripes – are enough reasons for the Bombers to keep Gregorius for at least a few more years.