Didi Gregorius has proven his worth, and the Yankees should reward him with an extension

We’ve written a lot about Didi Gregorius here this year and for good reason. The Yankees are a team filled with exciting young players with bright futures ahead of them and every day it seems that Didi’s future is as bright as just about any of them.  Simply put, Didi Gregorius is awesome and it would be a smart move for the Yankees to extend his contract now to ensure his place as a key member of this team for years to come.


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Now in his third full season with the Yankees, Gregorius is a completely different player than the relatively unknown prospect that was given the impossible task of replacing Derek Jeter at shortstop in 2015. Didi struggled that year, both in the field and at the plate. The calls for a new shortstop began very quickly. Thankfully, the Yankees stuck with Didi and that relatively unknown prospect with an uncertain future has matured into one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball.

To get right into the contract stuff, Gregorius will be entering his third year of arbitration this winter, with one more year following before hitting unrestricted free agency in 2020. Didi made about $2.4 Million in 2016 and after a successful campaign that saw him hit .276 with 20 home runs, 70 RBI and 32 doubles, he was awarded a raise to $5.1 Million for the 2017 season. Based on this season’s numbers so far, Didi is almost certainly earning himself another nice raise this winter.

According to Spotrac, Didi’s current salary has him as the 11th highest paid shortstop in baseball but a raise of just $3 million more would put him all the way up to fourth on that list. The only players higher on that list are JJ Hardy, Elvis Andrus and Troy Tulowitski. Hardy and Andrus are making $14 Million and $15.2 Million respectively while Tulowitski’s $20 Million salary for this year is a part of a massive 10 year, $157 million contract that he signed when he was looking like a cornerstone piece for the Colorado Rockies.

If the Yankees let Didi go through the arbitration process each of the next few years they may find themselves paying a figure close to those on top of that list and that is a credit to the transformation Gregorius has undergone since he arrived in 2015. In 2015, he batted .265 with just nine home runs, 56 RBI and 24 doubles. He raised all of those numbers in 2016 and is on pace to raise them all again in 2017, currently batting .291 with 25 home runs, 84 RBI, 27 doubles and just 67 strikeouts. I noted back in my season preview that the 2017 season would be just his third season as a full time starter and that meant that we couldn’t be sure of just how good he could really be.


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Sitting here now as the season winds down I think it is pretty clear that Gregorius is a very good all-around player and I find myself wondering if he could get even better next year. If he hadn’t missed most of April with a shoulder injury we could be sitting here looking at a 30 home run, 100 RBI shortstop, which there are none of in MLB this season. In addition to his remarkable improvement as a hitter, he has displayed remarkable tools as a fielder and put any concerns that Yankee fans had at the beginning of 2015 to rest. Although the number of errors he has committed has remained fairly consistent from year to year if you watch the Yankees play every day you know that Didi has an impressively strong arm and often makes difficult plays look relatively easy. He committed 13 errors in 2015, 15 in 2016 and has just 9 so far in 2017. Based on the caliber of plays he often makes in the field, those are numbers that the team will live with and the fact that he is on pace to improve that number this year is a definite plus.

While Didi’s statistical improvements speak strongly for themselves, the needs of the team going forward may force them to lock up Didi sooner rather than later. Just a year or so ago there were thoughts that with Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo and other prospects in house that Didi may not be around long term. With another year of improvement under his belt coupled with the trade of Mateo and the injury to Gleyber Torres, Didi’s continued improvement looms large at a position which is not as deep as it was a year ago organizationally. 


Credit: Bill Kostroun AP Photo

While there are other infield prospects elsewhere in the organization such as Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada and Kyle Holder, Didi is cementing his status as a long term anchor at the position with each passing game. Even though Torres is still in house and expected to contribute sooner rather than later, Didi’s performance, plus the long term uncertainty at other positions like second and third base, may force Torres to make a move when he comes to big league roster. With one wave of prospects already here and contributing and another one on the way, locking up Didi now would allow the team to use some of their secondary prospects to explore trades to fill other needs.  

It may seem too simple, but the Yankees should make Gregorius a part of their long term future because he is just a fun player to watch on and off the field. The quiet, unassuming 25 year old the Yankees acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks has grown into one of the energetic faces of this Yankee team. Still just 27, he is poised and well-spoken in victory and defeat. He has grown and matured remarkably under the bright lights of New York that some thought would be too much for him.

Instead, New York looks to be as good a stage as any for him as he looks right at home in the middle of the Yankees’ infield every night. He has a million dollar smile and looks like he genuinely enjoys playing the game. He is also developing his presence off the field and on social media with his famous #StartSpreadingTheNews tweets which are posted after each victory and his #DidisDeeds campaign for the All Star game where he traveled around cities giving out free subway rides.



Didi has put himself on the map with his baseball skills and gone from a talented prospect to a major contributor on a team that is looking to make a deep run in this season’s playoffs. In a lineup that features Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and others, Joe Girardi has had no problems slotting Didi into the cleanup spot and other run producing positions. His continued progression as a hitter has already led him to achieve an important milestone. In Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Minnesota Twins, Gregorius slugged his 25th home run of the season, which moved him past Derek Jeter for the Yankees' single season record for home runs by a shortstop. It’s a noteworthy accomplishment for a player who has come a long way in just a few short years and was tasked not only with replacing a giant in the organization's history, but one of baseballs all-time great shortstops.


Although his Yankee career got off to a rough start, Didi Gregorius is turning out to be the best case scenario for a prospect. Moreover, the Yankees didn’t give up much to acquire him and Didi has transformed himself into a key contributor on a playoff contending team. He is still young, plays a premium position and could very well continue to improve his performance at the plate and in the field. He is a good teammate and presents marketing opportunities for the team off the field as well. His energy and charisma are contagious and he seems to genuinely enjoy being a member of the team. 

It would make a lot of sense for the team to move to lock Gregorius up now before he gets deeper into arbitration or even to free agency. A contract of 4-5 years at about $12-$15 Million annually would be very fair for a player who checks as many boxes as Didi does. He is a good player, a good teammate and a wonderful ambassador for the team. I, along with most Yankees fans, would love to see the team reward him with a contract and keep him around long term.

Article by Matt Graziano

       

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