On April 19th, 2015, Yankees fans were ready to deem the trade that brought Didi Gregorius to the Yankees a failure. Shane Green, the 26 year-old right-hander who was sent to the Tigers in the three way trade with Arizona, Detroit and the Yankees, was pitching to a 0.39 ERA in his first three starts. Gregorius, along with his base-running blunders and constant defensive errors, was hitting a measly .189. Fans were chanting “Derek Jeter” wherever Gregorius went. One writer asked, “should the Yankees be kicking themselves?”
Fast-forward four months, and the story has changed completely. Gregorius has hit a respectable .277 since April, including his current 23-for-65 (.354) tear over the last 18 games that has featured some sparkling defense at shortstop. Green, on the other hand, has accumulated an ERA of above nine since those first three starts and has been removed from the starting rotation.
Suddenly, the Gregorius trade seems like it may have been a resounding success. If the numbers remain anywhere near they are right now, in fact, the Didi trade may go down in the books as one of the best trades for the Yankees in recent memory.
That seems incredibly ironic considering Gregorius replaced Jeter, one of the best Yankees in history. But in Jeter’s final season, he was dismal, the main reason the Yankees were ranked last in the American League last year at shortstop in terms of WAR. Now that Gregorius has taken over Jeter’s starting job, however, the Yankees are ranked 3rd in the AL at shortstop. The 2.8 increase in WAR is the best improvement for the Yankees at any position.
In addition, the Yankees shed an enormous amount of money off their payroll. Jeter, as bad as he was in 2014, made $12 million, while Gregorius is making just over a half a million in 2015. Even better, the Yankees have Gregorius, who is just 25 years-old, locked up: he won’t be a free agent until after the 2019 season.
Not many trades can claim to have improved a team from dead-last at a given position to one of the strongest in the league while giving up virtually nothing valuable in return, and at the same time clearing up tons of payroll space and providing the team with a long-term, stable solution to one of the most highly anticipated dilemmas (the departure of the great Derek Jeter) in a generation.
Even the trade for Alex Rodriguez, who has amassed the 11th highest WAR as a Yankee in history, cost the franchise hundreds of millions of dollars and incalculable damage in their many public duels. While Gregorius is surely no A-Rod, it’s fair to say that if the numbers remain even remotely close to where they are now, the trade for Gregorius is the best move the Yankees have made since the acquisition of Rodriguez.
And for those who just can’t stomach the idea of giving that much credit to Gregorius, one thing is for certain: No other trade could have brought about a better, quieter transition to the post-Jeter era.
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