Fingers crossed: but we’re less than a week away from the return of Didi Gregorius.
The Yankees’ shortstop should be back in pinstripes (or road grays) about 7.5 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery after the Bombers’ October exit. Railriders manager Jay Bell says it should be just a six-day stint, meaning Gregorius could make his season debut on June 4th in Toronto.
He won’t be the first Yankee to return from the IL, but he will be one of the best and most exciting. Here’s all that his return means for the Bombers:
The Roster Move
Since Didi is on the 60-day injured list, the team will need to clear a 40-man roster spot to make room for the Dutch shortstop. Unfortunately, they have a trio of 60-day IL moves they can make.
- Giancarlo Stanton: Placed on IL on 4/1, has spent 57 days on IL
- Troy Tulowitzki: Placed on IL 4/4, has spent 54 days on IL
- Aaron Judge: Placed on IL on 4/21, has spent 37 days on IL
Stanton or Tulowitzki seem like the obvious chocies as they’re each more than a week away from returning, so a 60-day IL move is merely a formality. Judge, who is hitting off a tee, could return before the 60 days.
The likely 25-man roster casualty is Thairo Estrada. The 23-year-old rookie has been a revelation filling in on the infield, but with Didi back in the fold, there would be little room and he’d be best served getting at-bats every day in Scranton.
If Yankees’ weren’t short a few pitchers, perhaps they could afford to lose the extra bullpen arm and carry the additional infielder. However, as Mike Axisa detailed in his newsletter Tuesday, the top arms have been relied on heavily in the last week and they need a break.
New York could eschew all those moves and simply designate Kendrys Morales for assignment. Gregorius may need some at-bats at designated hitter and Estrada would give the Yankees more roster flexibility. Still, I doubt the Bombers’ brass wants to lose the Cuban slugger for nothing.
Shuffling the Infield
Four infielders for three spots. This, of course, was the plan before the season, albeit with Miguel Andujar instead of Gio Urshela and Tulowitzki healthy(?).
There are two ways of looking at this. On the positive end, the Yankees will continually have a quality position player on the bench. They’ll finally have pinch-hit and defensive replacement options available to them, not to mention the chance to rest players without missing much in the starting nine.
On the other hand, an All-Star caliber player will have to ride the pine, perhaps multiple times a week, whether it be D.J. LeMahieu or others. LeMahieu signed up to be the Yankees’ jack-of-all-infield trades, but he still may be forced to play out of position, or not at all, more often than he has recently.
Having Gregorius at shortstop means Gleyber Torres shifts over to second base on most days. Will he adapt well? His defensive metrics were poor at the keystone last year, partially due to a lack of familiarity at the position. He also just made rookie mistakes. He looks more comfortable all around this year, but there’s no guarantee that sticks.
Meanwhile, we may finally see the end of Gio Urshela: superhuman third baseman. His fielding has been generally strong outside of a weird hop in Kansas City, but he’s starting to cool off a bit at the dish. He’s hit just .286/.328/.321 in his last 16 games since his walk-off vs. SEA. When he starts to ride the pine more, the magic may wear off.
Days Off for Sir Didi
Didi will have had over a week’s worth of Minor League at-bats upon his return, so he may have some of his timing back as compared to other IL returnees. However, he’s still coming back from a serious injury and the Yankees will likely take it slow.
Obviously, the team deems him ready enough considering they have depth to cover for him and would be unlikely to rush him back. He’s been on time or ahead of schedule in his rehab and no reason to think otherwise.
Still, I’d expect a fair number of rest days and games at designated hitter to start. Maybe that’s only a few weeks, but it’s OK to baby him a little. His elbow is hopefully fine, but let’s not find out otherwise by running him into the ground at short.
DH days for Didi allows for more starts with the current infield. It becomes harder to put Didi, or another infielder, at DH as more hitters come back, be it Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge or otherwise. However, neither of their returns are coming in the immediate future. That problem can wait.
The rest of this post got into roster and lineup mechanics, but let’s just appreciate Didi. He’s the only Yankees shortstop to ever have a 25-homer season … and he did that in both 2017 and ’18. He’s postseason-certified clutch. Gregorius improved at the plate every year with the Yankees and is a joy to watch both on and off the field.
New York surely misses him in the clubhouse on a daily basis, so his return is welcome. With enough players picking up the slack over the last two months, he doesn’t need to be a savior. But, fingers still crossed, hooray for Didi nonetheless.