Didi Gregorius’s two home runs in Game 5 of the ALDS proved to be the deciding factor in the game. Thanks to him, the Yankees are on their way to face the Astros in the ALCS as a Wild Card team. But Gregorius’s impact extends far from just a couple of home runs. He’s played himself into the Yankees’ core and may need to be locked up heading into arbitration.
Gregorius has been a more than adequate replacement to Derek Jeter. Since joining the Yankees as the heir apparent in 2015, he has consistently improved. Throughout his career in the minors (which included a winter in Canberra, Australia in the ABL), he was tabbed as a talented, glove-first shortstop. Now, Gregorius boasts a fairly complete profile entering his prime.
Prior to this season, Gregorius’s general projected profile — a light-hitting defender who can competently hold down shortstop — had looked accurate. He was about a two-win player who hovered below league average with the bat. Though the defensive metrics were a little up and down on him, it was generally fair to call him a top 10 defender at shortstop (just please don’t look at 2016). On top of that, he hit enough to make that defense worthwhile.
However, this past year was easily the best of his career. He came into his own at the plate and that was (unsurprisingly) a major difference maker. He posted career highs in wOBA, TAv, and wRC+ this year with .335, .282, and 107 respectively, along with solid defense (a 4 FRAA and 1 DRS). By WAR, all three metrics had him at a career high with a 4.3 bWARP, 3.9 fWAR, and 3.6 bWAR.
Contractually, Gregorius is heading into arbitration this season for the third time. After two one-year deals that totaled just over seven million dollars, Gregorius seems set to up his earnings this offseason. Though he has a few years until free agency, this is the time where teams tend to contemplate extensions to lock up players for the medium- or long-term.
For the Yankees, it makes a ton of sense to try and get Gregorius on one of those deals. Taking him through the entirety of his conventional prime (let’s say to 32) gives the Yankees peace of mind at an extremely important, up-the-middle position, while also offering them financial certainty to plan ahead toward future free agent classes (like the one that has Manny Machado in it). It might be buying high, but arbitration is going to increase Gregorius’s salaries anyway, so this might not be a bad time to strike.
Gregorius has improved steadily in his career with the Yankees. He might not improve beyond this point, but even if he doesn’t, he still seems to be one of the better starters at the shortstop position. Locking him up gives the Yankees the ability to stop worrying about that position and plan for more necessary upgrades at others. All in all, it’s a move that the Yankees need to seriously consider, regardless of the outcome of the ALCS.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.