August is here: the proverbial dog days of the baseball season and the time when I start counting down days until I’m back at work. I’ll understand if you don’t exactly sympathize with me on the latter. A byproduct of that is my teacher’s mindset of planning for the future has kicked in and it’s made me think about Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances.
Both the star shortstop and injured reliever will be free agents at the end of the year. Before the start of the season, I (and maybe you) thought bringing them back would be a foregone conclusion. I’m sure I advocated for extensions for both of them before, during, and after the extensions the Yankees gave to Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks. Now, though, I’m having some doubts.
Dellin Betances, when healthy, is one of the best relievers in baseball. Given his relative longevity compared to most relievers, we could argue that he’s the best reliever in baseball when he’s healthy and at peak powers. The Yankees’ bullpen has been fine without him.
Didi Gregorius is a great defensive shortstop and has flourished offensively with the Yankees. The Yankees, however, are flush with infield talent and could easily cover his loss as they did when he was out in the beginning of the year.
The other factor at play is that the Yankees have gotten quite choosy with how and on whom they spend their money in free agency. It’s easy to see how this will play out and what lines they’ll use if and when Didi and Dellin aren’t retained.
“We didn’t want to guarantee X years and Y dollars to players coming off injury.”
“We have a lot of great talent as it is. We’ll miss them, but we can make up for it.”
“We can get similar production for a better value with the guys we have.”
To an extent, all of these points are true and will be true in the offseason. The risk attached to both players is increased after injury, especially in Betances’ case. Free agency isn’t what it used to be and the Yankees could play to that trend. And given Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, and the will-be-returning Miguel Andujar, the Yankees’ infield situation looks pretty good, even without Didi. Despite all of those potential givens, I don’t buy any of them.
Let’s start with the cost. The Yankees can afford just about anything. They make enough money that they can eat a bad contract–years wise, money wise, whatever–and not have it affect their on field product too much. Money is also the biggest advantage the Yankees have over other teams. Considering all other avenues of talent acquisition are restricted, the Yankees need to flex their financial muscle in free agency.
There are times when this might go against their philosophies and their analytics guided evaluations, but given the context the team is in, they could stand to take some risks. This is a team with a wide open competition window, aided by young talent like Torres, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge. Their costs are low, which should allow for the Yankees to splurge for free agents like didi and Dellin.
Counting on repeat performances this good from DJLM and Urshela might be a touch risky, especially in Urshela’s case. Andujar, as talented as he is, is a complete question mark at this point. Relievers, even ones as solid as what the Yankees have, are volatile, and given the Yankees’ spotty rotation situation, more bullpen depth might be needed. This is all to say that the best course of action is to stockpile as much talent as possible and let the chips fall where they may. As this year has shown, just about anything can happen and there’s no such thing as too much depth or too many contingency plans.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Yankees will more likely re-sign Betances than Gregorius. Cynically, I think that’s because they could get him cheaper because his injury was more extensive this year than Didi’s was; there’s a chance Dellin doesn’t even throw a pitch this year. I’d also assume they think the bullpen is a bit less stable than the infield, which is true of just about any situation. But if I had my way, they’d both be back in pinstripes for 2020 and beyond.
I just enjoy rooting for Didi and Dellin. Dellin is a homegrown, local guy who worked real hard to get where he is and overcame a lot of baseball adversity to turn himself into an All Star reliever. Didi represents all that’s right with baseball. He’s enthusiastic. He’s charismatic. He’s charming. He’s multilingual. All that aside from the fact that he’s just a damn good player. If you can’t root for Didi, well, that’s on you.
The immediate future portends great success for the Yankees. They’ve got a big division lead and they look unbeatable at times. The longer term future, though, is, as always, uncertain. It may not contain Didi and/or Dellin but I hope it does. Hopefully, I’m not alone in that.