NEW YORK -- The Yankees' season just ended, and suddenly a powerhouse, 100-win playoff team faces an enormous question heading into 2019: Didi Gregorius is heading for Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm, and it's uncertain just how long the Yankees will be without their shortstop.The team announced Friday
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' season just ended, and suddenly a powerhouse, 100-win playoff team faces an enormous question heading into 2019: Didi Gregorius is heading for Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm, and it's uncertain just how long the Yankees will be without their shortstop.
The team announced Friday that an MRI had revealed a tear in Gregorius' right ulnar collateral ligament. The Yankees believe Gregorius sustained the injury while making a throw from the outfield at Fenway Park in one of the first two games of their American League Division Series loss to the Red Sox. Gregorius then played through the UCL tear for the rest of the series, but he didn't look like himself in the field, notably bouncing a pair of throws to first base in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium.
Gregorius' surgery date is to be determined, but it will likely come sooner rather than later. After that, the Yankees will try to determine a timetable for his return. General manager Brian Cashman said Friday that the Yankees will be without Gregorius until "sometime next summer," while manager Aaron Boone said he's optimistic that Gregorius will play "a lot" of the season.
"We're optimistic that he'll be back at some point during the season. I don't want to speculate too much on when," Boone said. "We think there's a realistic chance he plays the bulk of the season with us."
Cashman also said he preferred to remain general, with Gregorius not having had the surgery yet and with Tommy John being less common for a position player on his throwing arm, rather than a pitcher.
"Is it bring him back in June, July, August? I think all depends on how things play out," Cashman said. "I'd rather not put a timeframe on it. We do expect to get him back, and we do expect to return to the player that obviously we've been enjoying for quite some time."
The Yankees are now faced with a major choice. Either they can try to replace Gregorius at shortstop internally -- most likely Gleyber Torres, who filled in at shortstop this season when Gregorius missed time in August due to a left heel contusion -- or look outside the organization. If they pursue external options, one name stands out in the free-agent market: Manny Machado, who's one of the two marquee free agents available this offseason along with Bryce Harper and who has already been linked to the Yankees in various rumors throughout the year.
Cashman said Friday that it's still too early to say which course the Yankees will take, citing that they haven't yet begun their winter program of evaluation. But he did say that internally, "clearly Torres is by far the best player for consideration that we have," and Boone also said that the Yankees feel Torres would be capable in an everyday role at shortstop.
"We do, thankfully, have internal options. But the best option is Didi," Cashman said. "And unfortunately for a period of time he's got to take care of his health, and he'll get the best care, and we'll wait on him. How we handle the waiting aspect is obviously yet to be determined."
If the Yankees do choose to pursue a big-name free agent like Machado, they should have the financial flexibility to do so. They managed their payroll this year to stay under the $197 million luxury tax threshold and avoid the penalty for the first time since its institution 15 years ago.
"[Owner] Hal Steinbrenner will be provided with all the information, and then he'll direct us as he always does on a financial level. And we'll evaluate all available options," Cashman said. "Certainly we're not in a position to talk about players in free agency at this stage regardless -- and again, we're going to get our shortstop back at some point. So again, all of this is to be determined. Essentially the question is, 'How do we react to this information?'
"We'll either stay with what we've got -- Aaron Boone has some choices -- or we can obviously pursue something stronger. We're too early in the process to even have any strategies mapped out. I don't know what the budget will be, but I think we navigated a lot of different things this year in a very successful way financially, and we'll continue to try to do the best we can. Ownership's always very strongly supporting this franchise, and that I don't see ever changing."
Position players do tend to return to the field faster than pitchers following Tommy John surgery, but the fact that Gregorius' injury is to his throwing arm -- especially because he's a shortstop -- complicates the issue. Torres, for example, had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and missed about half a year, but his injury was to his non-throwing arm.
Gregorius' injury is not entirely new. Cashman said Friday that when the Yankees first acquired Gregorius in a trade with the D-backs in December of 2014, he had a partial ligament tear that was "asymptomatic."
"It seems, based off [Gregorius'] dialogue and the feeling he felt on the tweak there -- on that throw is where he pinpointed it -- that was the finishing off of something that was a sleeping giant," Cashman said.
Other notable position players to recently undergo Tommy John surgery include Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, who had the surgery this past May and is expected to be on the team's Opening Day roster in 2019, as well as Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who underwent Tommy John during the first week of the offseason and is expected to be the club's designated hitter for a significant portion of 2019, though he will not pitch next season.
Players like former MLB outfielder Carl Crawford, Angels infielder Zack Cozart, Twins third baseman Miguel Sano and Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez have also had Tommy John surgery, with all being able to return to the field in a year's time or less.
Gregorius' injury came at the very end of a second straight excellent season for the 28-year-old. In 134 games, Gregorius set career highs in home runs, with 27 -- the most ever in a season by a Yankees shortstop -- and RBIs, with 86, while hitting .268/.335/.494. He's also an excellent defender at a premium position.
"It's certainly tough, without question," Cashman said. "He's a great player, he's an important player for us, and we're going to be without his abilities for a period of time, until sometime next summer. He'll be in great hands, hopefully he'll have a great surgery, and we all know he'll do everything necessary and appropriate along the way to get back on track. It's our job to hold the fort until he does."
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.