CC Sabathia politely cut the question short, one that contained the premise that Didi Gregorius’ performance this season has flown under the radar.
“Not to us,” the veteran lefthander said. “We know how good he is. He’s up there with the best shortstops in the league.”
Sabathia paused a second and considered what he had said.
“And it’s awesome to be able to say that, with him taking over for such a big player,” Sabathia continued. “Obviously he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s doing, but if he wasn’t doing what he’s doing and what he’s done, people would be talking about Derek Jeter and all that stuff. And you don’t hear that. At all. And it’s because he’s one of the best shortstops in the league. If not the best.”
It didn’t start that way for Gregorius, who initially struggled, though not for all that long, in replacing the iconic Jeter after he retired at the end of the 2014 season.
That offseason, Gregorius was acquired as part of a three-team trade that also involved the Diamondbacks and Tigers, costing the Yankees Shane Greene.
The deal ranks among the best of general manager Brian Cashman’s time running the club.
It allowed the franchise to quickly and effectively fill a position that Jeter manned for nearly 20 years, doing so with an athletic, in-his-prime player.
Gregorius, after a horrendous first five weeks in pinstripes, finished the 2015 season with a .265/.318/.370 slash line with nine homers and 56 RBIs in 155 games. He also played standout defense.
It’s gotten dramatically better from there.
Gregorius had career bests in homers (20) and RBIs (70) last season and will make a run at surpassing both of those totals this year, despite missing the first month with a shoulder injury.
The 27-year-old’s two-homer game on Sunday, the first of his career, gives him 14 homers, 44 RBIs, a .304 average and .830 OPS, second in the AL among shortstops to Houston star Carlos Correa, who is currently injured.
Going by all-around performance this season, Correa would get the nod over Gregorius but that might be it, even though the latter continues to be overshadowed in discussions of best AL shortstops by Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus and Seattle’s Jean Segura.
The glut of terrific players at the position makes an All-Star bid in the years to come a long shot for Gregorius, who nearly got to Miami this year but was beaten in the Final Vote competition by Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.
As one AL talent evaluator put it: “He [Gregorius] doesn’t get the attention of some of those other guys, but if I’m ranking shortstops right now I’m getting to his name a lot sooner than later.”
Chase Headley, echoing Sabathia, said there’s not much doubt in the Yankees clubhouse of Gregorius’ standing, saying, “He’s as good as there is in the game.”
In some ways Sunday was a perfect encapsulation of Gregorius’ season. He hit two home runs in the 6-4 victory and made a highlight play in the field, being knocked to his knees in stabbing a third-inning one-hop smash by Carlos Ruiz, but quickly getting to his feet and throwing a strike to first.
Afterward, however, there was far more talk about the dominant 5 1/3 innings thrown by the remade bullpen, rookie Clint Frazier delivering yet another big hit — this one a two-run double that snapped a 4-4 tie — and the Yankees finally winning a series for the first time in six weeks.
“Yeah, probably,” Joe Girardi said of Gregorius being overlooked. “Probably because of the season [Aaron] Judge has had a lot of our guys’ seasons have been overlooked to this point. I understand how that happens but Didi’s been big.”
Can he think of other shortstops this season that have been better?
“Can’t think of a lot,” Girardi said.
Despite missing nearly the entire month of April with a shoulder injury, Didi Gregorius is putting up numbers that rank him near the top of American League shortstops:
BA .304 (3rd in AL)
SLUG. % .495 (2nd)
OPS .830 (2nd)
HRs 14 (3rd)
RBIs 44 (4th)
FIELD % .993 (1st)
ERRORS 2 (1st)