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Deep Sea Fishing: Didi Gregorius

Gregorius would be a great fit in Miami on a one-year “pillow” contract.

Handsome ballplayer with a few great seasons under his belt, but are the Marlins prepared to spend what it takes to ink him?
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Time to spend Bruce Sherman’s and Derek Jeter’s money! Entering the third year under new Marlins ownership, fans expect to see significant improvement at the major league level. Some of that improvement will surely come from within, but prospects—as they say—will break your heart. Successful MLB rebuilds make sure to surround their young cores with veterans who can bring credibility and reliable production. Free agent additions figure to be critically important to keeping the Fish on track.

To date, the largest investment that the Sherman/Jeter Marlins have made in any free agent was $5.25 million for Cuban outfielder Víctor Víctor Mesa. “Deep Sea Fishing” is a series of profiles on established, available players—all of them projected to cost more than Víctor Víctor—who should be seriously considered by the front office.

2019 team(s): Yankees

2019 salary: $11.75 million

2020 season age: 30

Marlins connection? Sort of. In the aftermath of Derek Jeter’s retirement, the Yankees acquired Gregorius to fill his shoes at shortstop. The Curacao native was quick to establish himself as an above-average regular at that position. Jeter is now the CEO of the Marlins. Other high-ranking Fish personnel Gary Denbo (VP, player development and scouting) and James Rowson (bench coach/offensive coordinator) previously worked as hitting instructors in the Yankees organization, coinciding with the beginning of Gregorius’ tenure. It is unclear whether either of them were directly involved with helping him during that critical time.

Why the Marlins should want him

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Due to his five-year run with the prestigious Yankees franchise, Didi Gregorius is among the most recognizable players in the 2019-20 free agent class. That definitely matters to the Marlins at this stage of their rebuild. Putting performance aside for just one moment, Didi would attract more fans to the ballpark and more viewers to regional television broadcasts (network name TBD).

Miguel Rojas is currently the club’s shortstop by default, but his offensive track record is uneven, plus he has a willingness to alternate between the various infield spots in a utility role. Entering a year where there’s an urgency to add wins, Gregorius would be a significant upgrade for the Fish at the shortstop position.

Gregorius is a .264/.313/.429 (98 wRC+) career hitter who’s still in his physical prime. He has averaged 22 home runs per season since 2016 even though he missed nearly half of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Albeit in a limited sample, MLB position players who undergo TJS regain their old form at a very high success rate and aren’t as susceptible to future surgeries as pitchers are.

In Gregorius, you get a combination of contact skills—career 14.2 K%—and an upper-cut swing geared toward extra-base hits. He has never grounded into more than nine double plays in a single season.

A down year at age 29 (.238/.276/.441, 84 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR in 344 PA) deterred the Yankees from extending the qualifying offer, so the Marlins can sign him without sacrificing any draft picks. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors is among the many analysts to suggest that Gregorius should try to boost his market value on a one-year “pillow” contract. Such deals are low-risk from the team perspective, and if he were to exceed expectations, the Marlins could use the QO next offseason and secure draft pick compensation for themselves should he leave for a huge payday elsewhere.

The most influential tweeter on the Marlins last year, Curtis Granderson, won’t be re-signed. But Gregorius (@DidiG18) is more than capable of picking up the fan engagement slack.

The drop-off in quality and marketability from Gregorius to the next tier of free agent shortstops is steep. Good alternatives figure to be available on the trade market (most notably Francisco Lindor), but it’s a high priority for the Marlins to keep their elite farm system intact.

Why the Marlins might not get him

If Gregorius is trying to maximize his long-term earnings, there will be teams ready to offer at least three guaranteed years. Zack Cozart’s three-year, $38 million Angels deal would be the floor for what he expects. The only free agent hitter to ever receive that kind of commitment from the Marlins was José Reyes (whose salary they dumped on the Blue Jays less than 12 months later).

Maybe he can transition to another defensive position on the tail end of that? Otherwise, this would be blocking Jazz Chisholm, who has the ceiling to be even more valuable than Gregorius on both sides of the ball.

Marlins Park is much more challenging for left-handed pull hitters than Yankee Stadium. The same swings that resulted in wall-scraping home runs for Gregorius in New York would be lazy fly outs in Miami. Either the Marlins trust him to make adjustments or else he profiles as a bottom-of-the-lineup option for them.

Spray chart containing all of Didi Gregorius’ career homers
Baseball Savant

Fish Stripes estimates a 13% chance of the Marlins signing Didi Gregorius this offseason.

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