Derek Jeter had tipped his cap two months earlier and bid farewell to the Bronx when the Yankees moved in December 2014 to acquire Didi Gregorius from Arizona. Gregorius, then a 25-year-old shortstop playing for his third team in four seasons, was plucked to replace a 14-time All Star and five-time world champion.
“He was replacing a legend,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
With Girardi as Yankees manager, Gregorius may not have been Jeter, but he blossomed into a fine replacement. He hit 20 or more homers in three of his five seasons in New York and accrued the third-best WAR among all shortstops between 2017 and 2018 before Tommy John surgery cost him the first two months of last season.
Gregorius’ growth, Girardi said, was amazing to see. And now there’s a chance the manager could be seeing Gregorius again. The Phillies, according to a source, are readying to make a push this offseason to sign Gregorius and reunite him with Girardi, who has internally vouched for the shortstop.
“He’s a real character guy and he’s a real hard worker who is a really important clubhouse presence. I felt that he was important to the clubhouse in New York and what he brought every day,” Girardi said. “I’ve always been a big fan of Didi and what he’s been able to accomplish.”
Girardi said he has spoken to some free agents, but has yet to talk to Gregorius. The team’s focus, Girardi said, has been pitching. The Phillies still plan to add two starting pitchers and reinforcements for a bullpen that was ravaged last season by injuries.
But they now have vacancies to fill in the infield. The Phillies created a need -- and payroll space -- for Gregorius on Monday by parting ways with third baseman Maikel Franco and second baseman Cesar Hernandez. The move saved the Phillies roughly $18 million, according to estimates by MLBTradeRumors.com.
They could replace Hernandez by signing Gregorius to play shortstop while Jean Segura moves to second base, a position he last played regularly in 2016. They would likely prefer to have Scott Kingery handle second, but Segura’s contract ($45.5 million over the next three seasons) makes him unlikely to be moved.
“He’s a very talented kid. He could probably play anywhere we put him,” Girardi said of Segura. “Obviously, if we do make moves, it is to upgrade the team and try to win. So I think everyone is going to be all-in, no matter what we do.”
The Phillies could use Kingery to replace Franco at third or sign a veteran to hold the position until prospect Alec Bohm, the team’s 2018 first-round pick, is ready to be promoted. Girardi said he would prefer that Kingery, a utility player since reaching the majors, play just one position this season, but “his position is going to depend on what we add.”
General manager Matt Klentak said the Phillies still see Bohm as a third baseman despite some evaluators’ belief that his defense may be a concern.
“We think he's made impressive strides in the minor leagues in a relatively short period of time. We still very much view him as a third baseman,” Klentak said. “It's reasonable to expect he will impact our major-league club at some point next year. I don't know when that will be. I don't know what the circumstances will be that will lead to that. But I think if he continues on his development path, I think it's very reasonable he could factor in for us next year. That's something we need to consider as we make the rest of our offseason decisions.”
Klentak said the Phillies do not have any meetings scheduled with free agents. They met with Patrick Corbin last November at Citizens Bank Park, hosted Manny Machado just before Christmas, and soon after visited David Robertson.
There is still time for the team to schedule similar meetings with free agents this winter and momentum is expected to be formed next week at the winter meetings in San Diego. But there’s one free agent they may not have to host in order to get to know him. Instead, the Phillies can just ask Gregorius’ old manager about him.