When Jose Altuve killed the Yankees’ season with a game-ending two-run home run off Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6 of the ALCS, Didi Gregorius was on the road to free agency for the first time.
The immediate speculation was the left-handed hitting shortstop who was limited to 82 games after missing the first eight-plus weeks of the season following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow could sign a one-year deal with the Yankees and use 2020 to play a full season healthy and secure a long-term deal in his second trip through free agency.
That remains in play, but there are teams that believe Gregorius, who turns 30 in February, did enough prior to his surgery to secure a multi-year contract. One talent evaluator predicted Gregorius will eventually receive a three-year deal.
“When he came back there was enough there to believe he could return to the player he was before he was injured,’’ a scout said of Gregorius, who hit .268 with a career high 27 homers, 86 RBIs and posted a .829 OPS in 2018 before blowing out his elbow in the ALDS.
Had Gregorius not gotten hurt, posted the same numbers in 2019 and continued to play above=average defense he possibly would be looking at a four-year pact for a sizeable increase over the $11.75 million he made this past season.
What Gregorius, a fan favorite and popular in the clubhouse, will get after hitting .238 with 16 homers, 61 RBIs and a .718 OPS this season is unknown.
He has been linked to the Reds, the team with which he broke into the majors. However, the Reds have the switch-hitting Freddy Galvis to play short and though he isn’t as good as Gregorius, the 30-year-old Galvis is owed $5.5 million for next season.
That might be considered ashtray money in New York, but not in Cincinnati. Trading Galvis, whom the Yankees had interest last winter but signed Troy Tulowitzki, would provide money for Gregorius.
Because a multi-year deal takes time to formulate, the Yankees, who will take a hard look at improving a rotation that doesn’t include a bona fide ace, will likely wait to see what Gregorius can secure before deciding whether to bring him back.
Even those who believe Gleyber Torres can move from second base to short have to admit a Yankees infield anchored by the sure-handed and accurate-throwing Gregorius is the best defensive alignment.
Should Miguel Andujar unseat Gio Urshela at third, Torres’ range would become a factor at short, according to some scouts. Others argue with all the infield shifting that puts three players on one side of second base, the range issue doesn’t come into play.
And don’t forget how top heavy the Yankees’ lineup would be without Gregorius.
As for fellow free agent Brett Gardner’s path back to The Bronx, it seems a lot clearer. With center fielder Aaron Hicks expected to miss at least the first two months of the 2020 season after his Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the Yankees need Gardner more than at any other time in his 12-year big-league career.
The other options in center until Hicks returns are Mike Tauchman, who is better suited to be available to play all three outfield spots, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who hasn’t played a big-league game since the 2017 ALCS due to back problems that led to hip surgery.
Gardner, 36, started 94 games in center field last season, provided solid defense and posted career highs in homers (27), RBIs (74) and OPS (.829). After making $9.5 million last season, the left-handed hitting Gardner is in line for a raise and stated after the season he wanted to return to the only organization for which he has ever played.