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Exploring the Yankees’ options at shortstop

With Didi Gregorius set to undergo Tommy John surgery, the Yankees need to consider their options at shortstop for the 2019 season.

New York Yankees v New York Mets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The New York Yankees got some rough news a few weeks ago when a MRI determined shortstop Didi Gregorius suffered a right shoulder injury that will require Tommy John surgery. Although the Yankees are optimistic that Gregorius will return midway through the 2019 season, setbacks are always a possibility. It’s time to explore how the Yankees will replace Gregorius until he is healthy.

One possibility is just sticking with someone who spent the majority of the season in the majors: Gleyber Torres. The all-star had a tremendous first season in the majors, and is being heavily considered for American League Rookie of the Year. Through 431 at-bats this season, Torres slashed .271/.340/.480, recording 77 runs batted in over 117 hits, including 24 homers. He also walked 42 times while striking out 122. Through 21 games at shortstop, including 15 starts, He had 69 chances to make a putout or assist, and he was successful 64 times; the remaining five times were unsuccessful and were ruled as errors. He also turned eight double plays. Even if the Yankees decide to sign a shortstop instead of commit to Torres, he’ll still get plenty of action at shortstop in 2018.

I know there are some people who wouldn’t be satisfied with this article unless I mentioned impending free agent Manny Machado, so let’s discuss him. He spent a whopping 1,261.1 innings at shortstop in the 2018 regular season, during which he played for both the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers and was featured in the All-Star Game. Throughout that time, he successfully converted 551 defensive chances for either a putout or assist, while making 12 errors and turning 73 double plays. Meanwhile, at the plate, he produced 188 hits throughout 632 at-bats, slugging 37 homers and recording a career-high 107 runs batted in. He also had career-highs in batting average (.297), on-base percentage (.367) and slugging percentage (.538). His stats are certainly great, but will the Yankees pay him what he’s worth while giving him the long-term contract he’ll be looking for? Gregorius won’t be out for too long, so once he returns, who switches positions and where do they go? I’ll let the Yankees make the final call, but it seems to me like pursuing Manny Machado isn’t the right choice.

Another less-expensive name is Alcides Escobar. His 2018 season consisted of him earning only $2.5 million, and he could get a similar amount of money from the Yankees as he enters his age-32 season in 2019. Escobar played 104 games at shortstop with the Kansas City Royals in 2018, turning 381 chances to make an out into 372 assists or putouts. He also made nine errors and turned 49 double plays. He played 140 games, and his batting was a bit of a concern. His .231 batting average was a career low, while his end-of-season slugging percentage was below .600 for the first time since the 2013 season. His 112 hits and 34 runs batted in were the lowest since his 2009 season, when he only played in 38 games. If the Yankees can get Escobar to agree to a one-year deal worth less than $3 million, it seems like a great move.

Let’s look at one more impending free agent before we check out New York’s farm season: Jose Iglesias hits free agency following the World Series, and this could be an intriguing option for the Yankees. Shortstop was the only position Iglesias played in the field in 2018, and he spent lots of time there. (1,055.1 innings, to be exact.) Of his 472 chances to make a putout or assist, he succeeded 464 times, recording just eight errors. He also turned 63 double plays. and his .983 fielding percentage ranked fourth among qualify shortstops in the majors. His .269 batting average was his best since he cranked out a .300 batting average during his All-Star season in 2015. He also produced 116 hits while driving in 48 runs and hitting five homers. Iglesias deserves to be on a playoff roster, and he may be able to do so for the first time since the Tigers made it to the postseason in 2013 if he inks a deal with New York.

The last player we’ll look at is someone who spent the majority of their 2018 season in Single-A, but why should that hold them back if they’re ready for the majors? Well, there is more to the story (such as an injury, an attempted robbery, and some rough stats), and it may not help my case as I suggest he makes the Yankees roster at some point next season. But I’ll give it a shot, anyways. Thairo Estrada, who is currently on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, is ranked sixteenth on the Yankees’ list of Top 30 prospects, and although he did appear in High-A Tampa for a bit this season, it was only for ten games. (To be fair, he didn’t play many games anywhere after being on the disabled list for a large part of the season; he suffered a gunshot wound in an attempted robbery.) Between High-A and Triple-A, he posted a .192 batting average and didn’t hit any homers. However, he has done really well in previous years, so if he can bounce back from his 2018 injury, he has a legitimate chance at appearing in the majors at some point in the near future. (His career batting average in the minors is .283.) He’s obviously not quite ready for the majors, but perhaps just a few weeks of solid, consistent baseball separates Estrada from The Show.

Luckily for the Yankees, they have plenty of options at shortstop, including a few from within their organization and plenty outside of it. Now, they just have to decide which route they are going to take as they prepare for a playoff-bound 2019 season.