Yesterday, news broke that Didi Gregorius left the World Baseball Classic and returned to the Yankees due to a shoulder injury. Tests to determine the time he will be sidelined have yet to provide a verdict, but understandably, there is concern. Gregorius is one of the team’s indispensable players, and for a club that is a borderline playoff contender, losing him for a long period of time would be a blow to the Yankees’ playoff hopes.
In sheer numbers, the Yankees have no shortage of options to replace Didi. The bad news is that no readily available replacements are nearly as good as Gregorius. He's been a three-win player each of the past two seasons, and shortstops of that ilk aren't abundant. Other clubs don't give away shortstops like that, and unless a prospect is near ready for the big leagues, internal options of that quality don't usually exist. The Yankees will have to settle for less, but hopefully not for long. Let's take a look at who could step in during Gregorius’ absence.
Starlin Castro was a shortstop for the Cubs before joining the Yankees, but that doesn't mean plugging him into Didi’s void is ideal. For one, he's hardly played the position since leaving his former ballclub. Furthermore, sliding him over would leave second base open. That means that Castro wouldn't be a complete replacement, as there would still be an infield vacancy if Castro moved over.
Ronald Torreyes and Rob Refsnyder are the other 40-man options for the infield, though the latter is not an option for shortstop (meaning Castro would take over). Though Refsnyder’s bat might be serviceable, his defense is so poor that even his ability to play second base is questionable. Torreyes could play either spot up the middle, but his offense lacks any punch.
The non-roster invitees aren't pretty. Whether it's Ruben Tejada, Donovan Solano, or Pete Kozma, the choices are thin. All have some Major League experience, which I suppose is nice, but they're on minor league contracts for a reason at this stage of their careers.
The idea of using prospects to step in is tantalizing, but haphazard. Gleyber Torres has been magnificent this spring, but we must remember that he hasn't reached Double-A yet. Tyler Wade is closer to the big leagues, having topped out at Double-A, but skipping Triple-A is still a daunting task. It's not like Wade is a can't miss prospect in the mold of Torres, either. Jorge Mateo, who is already on the 40-man roster, has already been sent to minor league camp and has yet to reach Double-A anyway.
Externally, it's not like two or three win shortstops grow on trees and the Yankees can just go out and trade for one. A shortstop of that caliber would cost the Yankees a fortune. If the front office does choose to seek a replacement from outside the organization, it won't be anything exciting. Odds are that Brian Cashman would have a hard time finding much available that is better than the internal options.
Any way you slice it, Didi’s shoulder will have a huge effect on the team’s performance this season. If it's significant, something like Greg Bird’s torn labrum from last year, we won't see Didi again until 2018. That means a step down of perhaps three wins on the season's projection, a hit that would be difficult to absorb. Hopefully, this is just a minor injury that costs Didi little regular season time, if any.