How Didi’s pending return changes Yankees’ roster

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.

GreGlorious Return

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.

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12 Comments

  1. capttim78

    Thought the Morales move would be great. It has not been. Sorry Kendrys, when Didi is ready, you may be let go…

  2. NYYROC

    IMO, Didi in, Morales out (limited versatility, 1 HR early not much else)
    Stanton back, Maybin out (too many OF)
    Judge back, Estrada to SWB

  3. Rich S

    There is only one move to make for the 25 man roster. DFA Morales. He adds nothing to this team. Estrada offers more versatility and has outhit Morales. Frees up DH spot for Voit, Sanchez, Frazier, etc.

  4. yanks317

    The pending IF logjam is a lot easier to handle then the one looming if the whole OF ever gets healthy. Estrada has been great, but he is here before his time. Urshela takes on a role where he plays 4 times a week (1x each while DJ, DD, Voit, and Gleyber get a rest/DH day). If he keeps it up his roster spot will take precedence over Kendrys, if not he will be next on the block. And .286/.328/.321 is like 90th percentile expectation for Gio still. Granted he’s been at 99.9th percentile expectation, but if he maintains that he’s a great part time player (and clutch!).

  5. Gonzo The Great

    Gleyber would have certainly improved at 2B. The kid has incredible baseball instinct and reaction time.

    As an aside, can we again discuss how blessed we are to have such incredible strength up the middle with Didi, Torres & Sanchez?

  6. Brian M

    The good thing about comments appearing in this format is that it should keep out spammers and most trolls.

    The bad thing about comments appearing in this format is everything else.

    • JudgingStanton

      Not good for live interaction at all. I’d love to see a better commenting structure.

  7. Ben

    Excellent post–the only component missing is potentially giving Voit a day or two at DH (and sliding DJ to 1st). Francesca has been screaming at people all week that they’d never do that and Gio’s days are numbered, but until Gio truly goes cold and if/when Judge/Stanton returns, that DH spot is still up for grabs between Voit, Didi, Gary or anyone else that needs the 1/2 day off–all that being said, please DFA Morales ASAP.

    • Gonzo The Great

      I’ll agree that you can definitely squeeze some more flexibility out of LeMahieu by getting Voit some DH days. Gio may or may not be a dead man walking, and he might be the next man on the shuttle… who knows.

      The beauty of 2019 (and when I look back and try to compare the Urshela Era to the Solarte Era) is that with folks coming back from injury and a dearth of depth this team has means that Urshela doesn’t have to be the answer now and today. We can let him grow and adjust (be it in Scranton or in part time duty) and not worry about being traded for an established veteran…

      • IRememberCelerinoSanchez

        Urshela is out of options. He can’t be sent down unless he clears waivers.

    • JudgingStanton

      Morales can fill a role of he isn’t dead. The yankees don’t believe he’s dead. Against rhp last year he ops’d 860 and got on base 37 percent of the time. For such a rhh heavy offense, he can add value.

      That said, with the roster crunch, we may be better off giving DJ those days at 1b. At least, unless morales starts crushing righties again, especially in ysiii.

  8. JudgingStanton

    A comment Boone made about Gleyber earlier this year stuck with me. Sure he does look better this year at short stop. Sure it’s his natural position, that’s the easy and quick explanation of why he looks better this year.

    But, it’s also his second year in the bigs. There is a good chance we would have seen an improvement from him at 2b this year. As a hard worker and a guy with pride on defense, you have to assume he’d take some of the issues from last year and correct them.

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