There’s no denying that Didi Gregorius had a rough campaign in 2021, as he struggled on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he hit .209/.270/.370, resulting in a wRC+ of just 68, the lowest such mark of his career outside of an eight-game cup of coffee in his 2012 debut. On the defensive side of things, all the advanced metrics agreed that he wasn’t at his best, as his DRS was -10, his UZR was -2.6 and his OAA was -17.
Those struggles were significant enough that he may not have a firm grip on the Phillies’ shortstop job in 2022. In a year-end press conference, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski had this to say on the matter: “It very well could be him. But he knows, we’ve had a discussion with him that he needs to be better. And we’re in a position where we also are going to be open-minded to what’s going to take place at shortstop next year. It could be internal, could be him if he comes back.”
If the club no longer views Gregorius as their answer at shortstop multiple possibilities open going forward, as Dombrowski laid out. As for the “internal” option he mentioned, the most likely candidate is Bryson Stott, who spent the bulk of last year cruising through Double-A pitching. In 80 games, he hit .301/.368/.481, for a wRC+ of 130. After getting promoted to Triple-A, he got into 10 games and hit .303/.439/.394. In 26 games at the Arizona Fall League, he put up a line of .318/.445/.489.
It certainly seems feasible that Stott could join the big league club in 2022 and bump Sir Didi off his throne and to another position. With Jean Segura at second base, Gregorius could potentially help out at third. Alec Bohm also struggled in 2021, but should be given a chance to rebound based on his youth, prospect pedigree and excellent rookie season in 2020.
If the NL adds the DH, that could lead to Gregorius being used in utility role, playing various infield positions as other players are rotated through the DH slot in addition to seeing some time at DH himself.
But Dombrowski also said that Gregorius could be the shortstop “if he comes back,” seemingly implying that there’s a chance Gregorius is wearing a different jersey in 2022. Despite a legendary crop of superstar free agent shortstops, there are a handful of teams that have stayed out of the sweepstakes thus far and could potentially be interested in Gregorius. He has just one year and $15.25M remaining on his contract and is about to turn 32, meaning a return to his previous form is certainly not out of the question.
Coming into the offseason, the Yankees were widely expected to be in the hunt for a big-ticket shortstop acquisition after moving Gleyber Torres over to second base. However, they have been rumored to be eschewing a large expenditure in that area, reportedly believing that prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza can provide them with an internal solution. But Volpe is yet to play above High-A and Peraza has only eight games of Triple-A experience. Bringing Gregorius back to the Bronx would be a fun story and also make some sense, as he could diversify a righty-heavy lineup with his lefty bat while holding down shortstop until one of the kids takes his spot.
The Astros have taken a similar approach, seemingly content to wait for prospect Jeremy Pena and uninterested in splurging on an expensive free agent shortstop to replace Carlos Correa. But Pena only played 30 Triple-A games in 2021 and just 37 games in total. It would probably be unwise to expect him to simply jump up to the majors and take over as the full-time shortstop without a hitch. Having someone like Gregorius on hand would be a better fallback option than Aledmys Diaz, who hasn’t played more than nine games at shortstop in a season since 2018.
The Rockies don’t yet have a replacement for Trevor Story, who seems unlikely to return in free agency. There are internal candidates such as Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers, but they are capable of playing elsewhere on the diamond, meaning it would be quite easy to fit Gregorius into the equation. Perhaps playing his home games at Coors Field could help him get his groove back at the plate.
The Angels have improved their pitching staff this offseason but still have question marks on the infield, with Tyler Wade and David Fletcher currently penciled into the middle of the diamond. With the club clearly in win-now mode as they try to take advantage of their best remaining years of the Trout-Ohtani combo, they could grab Gregorius and bump Wade into a utility role.
If the Phils can find a taker for Gregorius, it could clear the deck for Stott or perhaps an acquisition in free agency. Carlos Correa and Trevor Story remain unsigned and will need to find new teams once the lockout is complete. As a big-market team with an uncertain shortstop picture, the Phillies stand out as one of the teams that could theoretically be a fit for them.
The club’s Opening Day payroll is currently projected to be $181M, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. That’s about $10M shy of last year’s number, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. It’s possible the club decides to push the budget a bit farther this year, but finding a taker for some or all of the $15.25M owed to Gregorius would give them more wiggle room to address shortstop along with other areas of weakness, such as center field, left field and the bullpen.