The New York Yankees have a problem.
Despite spending $503 million on talent this winter, the team will likely enter the 2014 season with major questions across the infield, especially at the up-the-middle positions of second base and shortstop.
In theory, Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter can reclaim their health and star-level talent to fill those holes with durability and production. Of course, that's unlikely to last for a full season.
Roberts, 36, hasn't played in 100-plus games since the 2009 season. Jeter, 39, is attempting to become just the fifth player in baseball history to log 100-plus games at shortstop during an age-40 season, according to Baseball-Reference.com (subscription required).
Compounding the problem: Jeter's reign on the shortstop position will end after the 2014 season.
In the short term, the Yankees need help at both second base and shortstop. In the long term, the team must fill Jeter's hole at shortstop with a capable player.
If Yankees general manager Brian Cashman isn't enamored with current in-house options—including Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan—a trade could happen before the regular season begins.
When scouring potential options on the market, an obvious match emerges: Didi Gregorius of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
According to AZCentral.com's Nick Piecoro, the Diamondbacks could look to move the loser of the spring training shortstop battle currently raging between Gregorius and Chris Owings. General manager Kevin Towers acknowledged that thought and what the team might look to receive back in a deal:
“For us, it would have to be the right deal,” Towers said. “Our biggest needs in our system are catching. If it’s the right, top-notch catching prospect. Someone we could have right behind Miggy. More of an upper-level guy. Maybe a top, upper-end starter."
If catching is what the Diamondbacks want, the Yankees are a logical trade partner.
The signing of Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal in November means that three catching prospects in New York's system are now blocked by a perennial All-Star and power bat. From Austin Romine to John Ryan Murphy to Gary Sanchez, the Yankees have catchers without an obvious path to the majors.
According to The New York Post's George A. King III, the team could be willing to move one or more of those prospects for infield help.
Completing the puzzle: Towers was a member of New York's front office in 2010. His knowledge of the system's catching prospects is evident.
Gregorius, 24, isn't one of baseball's 10- or 15-best young players, but he has value. In fact, over the last decade, only 14 shortstops or second basemen have been worth 1.0 WAR during their respective age-23 seasons. In 2013, Gregorius joined that group by displaying excellent defense and an ascending bat for the Diamondbacks.
|Dynamic Age-23 Seasons from SS or 2B (2004-2013)|
If the Yankees believe he's capable of manning both second base and shortstop, interest should emerge.
Ironically, in a recent interview with Amanda Rykoff of The Outside Corner, Gregorious mentioned a player he could soon emulate:
Growing up I had a lot of players [who inspired me], I’m not going to lie. Ken Griffey, Jimmy Rollins, Barry Bonds, Pokey Reese. But Andruw Jones though was all we knew when I was little, just looking at these guys, just trying to be there and trying to enjoy it.
No, folks. Gregorius isn't going to confuse anyone for Griffey, Bonds or Jones. In reality, he's likely not good enough to become Rollins 2.0. However, Reese is a fair comparison for the young Gregorius.
Despite never developing into an impact offensive player, Reese—through a combination of durability, athleticism, defense and versatility at both up-the-middle positions—was worth 5.9 WAR during a two-year stretch with the 1999-2000 Cincinnati Reds.
During an eight-year career, Reese played 591 games at second base and 291 at shortstop. For a Yankees team with long-term concerns at both positions, that kind of versatility in a pre-arbitration-eligible player is attractive.
Last September, Gregorius' biggest hit of the season—a 12th-inning go-ahead triple in San Diego—chased home Owings. Less than six months later, the two are in a battle for one spot on Arizona's 25-man roster.
That triple, one of 26 extra-base hits during Gregorius' rookie season, could be a precursor to advanced power and production as he ages. If afforded the chance to bring his left-handed swing to Yankee Stadium, 45 extra-base hits in 2014 isn't out of the question.
If Gregorius hits like that this spring, the Yankees likely won't have a chance to pry away a starting shortstop from an NL contender. If the Yankees suffer through unexpected injuries at the catching position, sacrificing depth to fill a hole won't be an option.
As of now, however, a perfect fit is evident. By March 31, Gregorius could go from second fiddle in Arizona to key piece of the future in New York.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Arbitration numbers and projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. Roster projections courtesy of MLB Depth Charts.
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