The injury to Didi Gregorius presents the obvious problem for the Yankees: How do you replace a player this vital on both sides of the ball and also in the clubhouse?
But further complicating the matter are two timing issues:
1) The Yanks will have some clue once Gregorius undergoes Tommy John surgery and begins his rehab when he will return, but no certainties. Corey Seager, for example, needed Tommy John surgery in early May and the Dodgers projected he would need 10-11 months to recover. Ten months for Gregorius would take him to about August. Thus, a similar timeline would take Gregorius out most of next year.
2) The Yankees’ time is now. They can’t simply punt on next year. They, therefore, must compensate for Gregorius’ absence. But the delicate part is that they have to obtain a player good enough to play the whole season and flexible enough to help elsewhere if Gregorius returns.
Since the Yankees are always associated with the biggest names, Manny Machado’s quickly came to mind. He could play short, then flip to third. But with Giancarlo Stanton on the books, the Yanks are going to be hesitant to add a second mega-contract. Plus, the Yanks might not want to block third base from Miguel Andujar, who in theory could move to first.
So if not Machado, who? Some thoughts:
1. Daniel Murphy — There is a lot not to like with this free agent. This would mean playing Murphy at second, where he is a poor defender, and Gleyber Torres at short, where he is inferior to his work at second. What to like? Murphy is lefty, and losing Gregorius is going shorten the Yanks further in that area. Murphy is the kind of high-impact, low-strikeout guy who hits good pitching, the kind the Yankees crave (particularly in October). His power would play up further at Yankee Stadium. When Gregorius returned, Murphy could move to first base/DH.
2. Jurickson Profar — He has been a Yankees target before. Profar is coming off his healthiest, most productive season. He is a switch-hitter who is good from both sides. For when Gregorius returns, Profar plays all four infield positions and left field. He can be a bit scatter-armed as a shortstop.
Texas is in rebuild and probably would prefer to move shortstop Elvis Andrus with at least four years at $58 million left and the chance to opt out after next season, or maybe even second baseman Rougned Odor (four years at $43,.5 million left). But those are unlikely Yankees targets. The Rangers crave young arms, and Profar (a free agent after 2020) could potentially intrigue the Yanks to part with some of their many pitching prospects.
3. Nick Ahmed — There are defensive-first free-agent shortstop options Freddy Galvis, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jose Iglesias. Of those, I like Galvis best, but I like Ahmed better than Galvis, though it would take a trade to get him. Arizona is mainly thinking rebuild, and if Ahmed (a free agent after 2020) can fetch a few prospects, the Diamondbacks could cover their middle infielder with Ketel Marte and Chris Owings. Ahmed is a superb defender who, though not a strong offensive player, became a better one in 2018, adding a bit of power.
4. Ben Zobrist — The Cubs struggled on offense in 2018, and they may not want to trade a guy who hit .305 with an .817 OPS. But Chicago has a glut of positional alternatives and could lack other ways to remove money (Zobrist makes $12 million on the final year of his deal in 2019) and address pitching depth issues. Zobrist is a switch-hitter who — like his late-season Cubs teammate Murphy — does not swing and miss a lot. He can handle second base and, when necessary, flip to first or the corner outfield.
5. Jonathan Schoop — Brian Cashman did not hide his feelings that his preference is to trade Sonny Gray this offseason. Perhaps, Gray could be used to find middle-infield help. In Friday’s Post (even before news of Gregorius was public), I wondered if there was a Gray-for-Schoop deal, since both struggled in 2018 and are free after 2019. Milwaukee could probably use rotation depth more than Schoop and in pitching coach Derek Johnson have Gray’s Vanderbilt pitching coach. The Giants have lefty-swinging St. John’s product second baseman Joe Panik off an injury-impacted down 2018 and also in Curt Young have Gray’s A’s pitching coach.
6. Eduardo Escobar — There are four multi-position, switch-hitting free agents who are all intriguing: Escobar, Marwin Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera. My gut says Lowrie wants a defined position and a return to Oakland, plus the Yanks have had opportunities for him previously and shown no interest. Cabrera would probably more fall into the Yankees’ price range for this than Escobar or Gonzalez, and his lefty power would really play at Yankee Stadium. But I like Escobar and Gonzalez better and perhaps Escobar a drop more for what the Yankees need.
Two multi-positional switch-hitters from rebuilding teams — the White Sox’s Yolmer Sanchez and the Orioles’ Jonathan Villar — also offer some enticement; Villar’s speed is an alluring element.
7. Neil Walker — On the subject of multi-positional switch-hitters, Walker could simply be re-signed and the Yanks probably would feel that with a full spring training this time he would be a consistently more productive player.
The Marlins would rid themselves of Starlin Castro’s owed $12 million, but I can’t imagine the Yanks going back there or giving up enough to pry Scooter Gennett (free after 2019) from the Reds, who have top prospect Nick Stenzel ready to join their infield and a desperation for pitching prospects. Daniel Descalso is a lefty-hitting free agent utility type coming off his best season. St. Louis’ Jedd Gyorko (one year, $14 million) could play anywhere in the infield.