Cincinnati Reds: Why Didi Gregorius should be atop the list of shortstops

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 06: Didi Gregorius #18 of the Philadelphia Phillies pulls his mask down as he fields his position. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 06: Didi Gregorius #18 of the Philadelphia Phillies pulls his mask down as he fields his position. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

Former Reds farmhand Didi Gregorius is a free agent again this offseason.

The Cincinnati Reds need to fill the hole at shortstop this offseason. Freddy Galvis is gone, José Iglesias is not coming back, and José García, while talented, is not yet ready to face major league pitching. Among the free agent shortstops available, Didi Gregorius makes the most sense, and a multi-year deal may be enough to bring the former farmhand home.

Our friends over at MLB Trade Rumors recently released their Top 50 free agent predictions. The website predicts that Gregorius will be the lone Top 50 free agent to land with the Reds and will sign a three-year/$39M contract. Given that Gregorius played last season on a one-year/$14M contract, a deal with an AAV of $13M seems like a bit of a bargain.

Didi Gregorius entered last offseason having played just 82 games for the New York Yankees following Tommy John surgery. In that half-season, Gregorius was still able to muscle 16 homers over the fence and record 61 RBIs while slashing .238/.276/.441.

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Gregorius’ bat returned to form in 2020 after signing a one-year “prove it” deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Last season, Gregorius slashed .284/.339/.488 with 10 long balls and 40 runs batted in. Gregorius distanced himself from the other free agent shortstops with last season’s performance.

The other two prominent names on the free agent market are former Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Marcus Semien who placed third in the AL MVP voting during the 2019 season while playing shortstop for the Oakland Athletics.

Both Simmons and Semien are projected by MLB Trade Rumors to land one-year deals, similar to what we saw Gregorius sign in 2019. Semien, ranked No. 15 by MLBTR, is estimated to take home a $15M contract from the Angels, while Simmons is projected to land a one-year/$12M contract with Gregorius’ former team, the New York Yankees.

Some of you may be asking, why sign Didi Gregorius to a multi-year deal if José García is the team’s shortstop of the future? It’s a valid question, but one that I think doesn’t need a lot of in-depth research. The bottom line is that García, while extremely talented with the glove, hadn’t even set foot on a Double-A ball field.

Heading into last season, García was expected to begin the year at Double-A Chattanooga, then, if all went well, the team’s top shortstop prospect would’ve concluded the 2020 season at Triple-A Louisville. Instead, feeling as though they were out of contention in the NL race for the postseason, the Reds decided to promote García to the big leagues in order to gain valuable experience.

García’s numbers were not good. Albeit only a small sample size, García accounted for -0.6 WAR in 24 games. The 22-year-old struck out in 27 of his 68 plate appearances and drew just one walk. If the Reds went into the 2021 season with José García as the team’s starting shortstop, he’d be hitting No. 8 in the batting order.

A player like Gregorius is a middle-of-the-order type of bat. Gregorius saw himself in the heart of the Phillies order, hitting in the No. 4 through No. 6 spot in 52 of his 56 starts. Furthermore, Gregorius is a left-handed hitter, something that would definitely pique David Bell’s interest. Gregorius dominated right-handed pitching, hitting .318/.380/.497 last season.

When comparing Gregorius to Simmons, there’s a large gap in terms of offensive production. Gregorius certainly out performs Simmons in the power category. Over his nine big league seasons, Andrelton Simmons has 67 career home runs and a .379 slugging percentage. Gregorius has accounted for 120 homers in his nine years with a career-slugging percentage of .433.

However, in terms of defense, Simmons is the gold standard. The 31-year-old has four Gold Gloves and 191 defensive runs saved according to FanGraphs. Gregorius has -7 DRS for his career. If you’re curious about Semien, he’s yet to win a Gold Glove but has accounted for 13 DRS in his eight seasons.

In 2020, Marcus Semien didn’t put up the numbers fans were used, but who really did? Semien accounted 0.3 WAR while hitting .223/.305/.374 with just seven home runs and 23 RBIs. Semien picked a bad time to have his worst statistical season since he broke into the league with the Chicago White Sox in 2013.

If the Cincinnati Reds are looking to upgrade the shortstop position, none of the three free agent mentioned would be a bad choice. However, between the three, Didi Gregorius would give Cincinnati a bat-first shortstop with a solid, yet unspectacular glove. Given that the offense let the Reds down last season, adding Gregorius’ bat seems like the right play.

Last year during the Winter Meetings, there was said to be mutual interest between the Cincinnati Reds and Didi Gregorius. This was after the Reds had signed Mike Moustakas to play second base, and Cincinnati would’ve had Galvis playing a reserve role at $5.5M.

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Next winter, the shortstop market will be loaded with the likes of Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager. Gregorius would do well to sign a multi-year contract this offseason so as to not be left behind next winter. Maybe a two-year/$27M contract with a team-option for a third year would be enough to land the former Reds farmhand.