Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius underwent an MRI yesterday that revealed a ligament tear in his right elbow, manager Aaron Boone revealed to reporters today (all Twitter links via The Athletic’s Marc Carig). He’ll require Tommy John surgery to repair the injury, and an exact timeline on his return is presently uncertain, though rehab for position players is shorter than it is for pitchers. Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News writes that Boone expressed a belief that Gregorius could return in time “to play the bulk of the season with us,” and she further tweets that GM Brian Cashman suggested a “summer” return for Gregorius is possible.
The injury is fairly jarring, as Gregorius wasn’t known to have previous elbow pain. However, Boone explained to reporters that Gregorius felt something in his elbow at Fenway Park when making a relay throw during the American League Division Series. Despite the obvious discomfort that followed, Gregorius gutted out the remainder of the series before undergoing an MRI after the conclusion of the Yankees’ season.
The uncertainty surrounding Gregorius will add a major wrinkle to the Yankees’ offseason. The team has already been linked to free agent Manny Machado dating back to last offseason, and the fact that Gregorius isn’t likely to be ready to open the season will only further fuel that connection. Adding a shortstop won’t be an imperative for the Yankees, who do have substantial depth with Gleyber Torres, Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade all on the roster. Nonetheless, they’ll surely at least explore their options — likely including everything from smaller-scale depth additions to an earnest pursuit of Machado, one of the highest-profile free agents in recent history.
The very fact that Boone has suggested Gregorius will return to the Yankees is of some note. He’s up for a relatively hefty arbitration raise after hitting .268/.335/.494 with a career-high 27 home runs for the Yanks this season; MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects Gregorius to earn $12.4MM in 2019 — a sizable step up from this past season’s $8.25MM salary. Gregorius would be eligible for free agency upon completion of the 2019 season.
If the timeline for his return is lengthy enough, however, the Yankees would likely be forced to consider a non-tender of Gregorius. The final determination on his timetable, of course, won’t be made until after he undergoes surgery, but a salary north of $12MM would be a substantial price to pay for half a season, and Torres’ natural position is shortstop. Utilizing Torres at short in 2019 would open up an even wider slate of possibilities, as the second base market has ample supply that could vastly outstrip the demand at the position.