After having possibly the hardest job in baseball trying to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop for the New York Yankees, the native of Amsterdam by way of Curacao was forced to settle for a one-year prove it deal in Philadelphia worth $14 million. From the start of the season, Didi showed that he was definitely worth the money, and instantly became a fan favorite for his Emoji filled game recaps. 2020 was definitely the rebound year that Gregorius expected, as he ended up slashing a healthy .284/.339/.488 with 10 HRs and 40 RBIs, while playing his typically strong defense up the middle.
It was clear from the onset of the season that Didi loved playing in Citizens Bank Park. Incredibly, Gregorius has not once hit an opposite field home run, but his left pull side power fits in great with the short porch in right field. His offensive profile will go a long way in filling the hole left if Realmuto leaves us, as I think sliding everyone up one spot behind Harper would help ease the pain.
However, with owner John Middleton making it clear that he would prefer to cut payroll, would an extension between the Phillies and Gregorius make sense?
At this point, it has to.
For starters, losing one middle of the order bat in an offseason is hard, but the Phillies have TWO that are pending free agents. It’s clear that the team ‘doesn’t’ have the money to sign both this offseason, so I expect that the Phillies bring back the one with the cheaper contract demands. While Todd Zolecki reported that Realmuto is looking for a contract ‘approaching $200 million’, Gregorius’ market doesn’t seem to be as robust. While there is a chance that he will have to settle for another short term deal or even accept the potential qualifying offer the Phillies extend to him, the 2021-2022 free agent shortstop class is loaded, headlined by Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez.
From a business perspective, while the shortstop market will be reset next offseason, it makes sense for Gregorius to lock up a multi-year deal this offseason so he doesn’t have to compete with the players who are 2-3 years younger than him. In looking at free agent shortstop deals in recent years, the one that comes to mind as a comparable is Brandon Crawford.
In the offseason before 2016, the Giants signed a 29-year-old Crawford to a six-year contract worth $75 million. Crawford was coming off an excellent 2015 season, slashing .256/.321/.462 with 21 HRs and 84 RBIs, getting his first All-Star nod while winning his first of three straight Gold Gloves, along with the Silver Slugger. While he hasn’t been a flashy superstar like Baez or Lindor, Crawford has been one of the more consistent shortstops over his career, similar to what Gregorius has done.
Gregorius may have the advantage in the offensive department, while Crawford is probably the better defender of the two. Crawford was making an annual average of $12.5M with the deal he signed in 2015, but I don’t think Gregorius will have any trouble beating that number. However, I will be incredibly surprised if he gets a contract of that length on the open market. They aren’t the same player at all, but a contract in the realm of Mike Moustakas‘ 4 year/$64 million deal that he signed last offseason with the Reds would be the type of deal I see Didi expecting.
2020 has thrown a wrench into every business’ plans, including professional sports teams. While you are getting a better player if you sign Realmuto, you are also guaranteeing almost double of the money and years it would take to sign Gregorius. I don’t think Realmuto is going to accept a deal less than six years in length, which is a big future commitment to make, without even taking the current economic climate into account. Didi, on the other hand, will probably consider a deal in the three to four year range, making it much less of a financial commitment.
John Middleton has made it clear that he does not want to spend the same money the franchise did in 2020, especially with the estimated $186 million of operating losses incurred. With that in mind, Gregorius and his next contract makes a whole ton of sense for a Phillies team that is still starving for talent.
You can’t afford to lose both, so let’s hope the Phillies can work something out with Sir Didi.