The Yankees aren’t extending a qualifying offer to Didi Gregorius, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be the team’s starting shortstop in 2020.
Extending Aroldis Chapman was the Yankees’ first free agency move of the winter, but electing not to extend a qualifying offer to Didi Gregorius is a much more controversial call by Brian Cashman and his front office. The decision does allow the shortstop to leave the Bronx without draft compensation being an issue, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility of Gregorius donning pinstripes again in 2020.
The decision does send a clear message to the player that the Yankees weren’t interested in paying him the $17.8 million he could have earned next season if he accepted the qualifying offer. That’s hardly a shock given Gregorius’ struggles last season. He earned a lot of credit inside the organization for returning ahead of schedule from Tommy John surgery, but the organization’s analytics-driven front office certainly took note of the downturn in his play.
He played quality defense up the middle but was nothing spectacular. That means he needed to be an above-average hitter to really provide value for the Yankees. To put it simply, he didn’t measure up to those standards at the plate. Slashing .238/.276/.441 was a very weak offensive season for the 29-year old. It’s possible his poor performance is largely related to his injury, but that’s a difficult thing for the organization to evaluate with any degree of certainty.
It’s still easy to envision a scenario where the Yankees bring Gregorius back at a more palatable salary. Betting on a player to bounce back after Tommy John surgery is a very logical proposition. The odds favor Gregorius being a more productive player in 2020.
It’s also easy to imagine the Yankees letting him walk. Gleyber Torres is a natural shortstop and could make the move over from second base in 2020. Perhaps more importantly, DJ LeMahieu would then move to second base where he is capable of providing exceptional defense. The Yankees would lose some flexibility in this scenario, but they’d also save a fair chunk of money.
The savings from a potential Gregorius contract could be just what the Yankees need to become heavy hitters in free agency. The team desperately needs an ace to anchor their rotation. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are both available on the open market, but both arms will command massive contracts. Even a team with the financial resources that the Yankees enjoy may need to cut costs elsewhere to afford one of those mammoth deals.
In the end, the team’s decision to pass on a qualifying offer for Gregorius decreases his chances of returning in 2020, but only slightly. The Yankees front office still has a lot of tough decisions to make this winter.