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Didi Gregorius departs for Phillies, giving Yankees decision to make at shortstop

Didi Gregorius #18 of the Yankees follows through

Didi Gregorius #18 of the Yankees follows through on a third inning grand slam home run during Game 2 of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Jim McIsaac

SAN DIEGO — Brian Cashman isn’t ready to state that Gleyber Torres will for sure be his Opening Day shortstop, but this much is certain: It won’t be Didi Gregorius.

That became reality Tuesday afternoon when Gregorius, the Yankees shortstop the last five seasons, was reunited with his former manager, Joe Girardi, after agreeing to a one-year $14 million contract with the Phillies.

Gregorius’ departure became a likely outcome when the Yankees chose not to extend him the $17.8 million qualifying offer after the World Series.

“We obviously played extremely well with Gleyber at short last year for an extended period of time,” said GM Brian Cashman, who spoke in general terms because Gregorius’ deal with Philadelphia was not yet official.

While the Yankees are more than comfortable with Torres at short — Torres, a natural shortstop who turns 23 Friday, played the first two-plus months last season there as Gregorius recovered from Tommy John surgery — and DJ LeMahieu playing full-time at second, Cashman said that’s not definite.

He mentioned prospect Thairo Estrada, a natural shortstop who performed well at multiple positions last year in a couple of stints with the big-league club, as well as the slick-fielding Tyler Wade as potential options at short.

“And that doesn’t mean we can’t go outside the organization at the same time if necessary,” Cashman said. “So we have a lot of flexibility because of the choices that we currently possess, and those choices aren’t just limited to the in-house options. But if we were starting the season today, the fallbacks we’re comfortable with.”

The Yankees actually discussed extending Gregorius last spring but, after returning in early June from surgery, the 29-year-old never quite looked like the standout he had been the previous four seasons after taking over for franchise icon Derek Jeter before the 2015 season. Gregorius compiled a .238/.276/.441 slash line with 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 82 games in 2019, severely damaging his chances at returning to the Yankees. The four seasons before that, Gregorius averaged 144 games per year, had 81 home runs and 299 RBIs, produced an average slash line of .274/.319/.447, all while displaying good range and a cannon arm in the field. Although he didn’t make fans forget Jeter, Gregorius made the transition a seamless one, in the process becoming a fan-favorite himself and clubhouse leader.

Aaron Boone managed Gregorius the last two seasons and watched from afar as an ESPN broadcaster, with skepticism, when he replaced Jeter.

“I was paying close attention and what stood out to me about that, and this was before I knew Didi, obviously, was the first month (in 2015) he fell on his face a little bit,” Boone said Tuesday. “It was a struggle, both sides of the ball. In a market like New York where you're replacing a guy like Derek Jeter, to not have that define him or even to some degree affect him, his play over the long haul, to be able to become the player that he did in New York, I think speaks to the kind of character and who he is as a competitor.”

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