The Yankees have found a potential replacement for Derek Jeter. On Friday morning, New York acquired slick-fielding Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-team, three-player trade, dealing starter Shane Greene to Detroit. The Tigers sent lefthanded pitcher Robbie Ray, the centerpiece of their return in last winter's Doug Fister trade, and teenage infield prospect Domingo Leyba to Arizona.
Back when the Diamondbacks acquired Gregorius from the Reds in a three-team deal two years ago, then-Arizona general manager Kevin Towers compared Gregorius to Jeter. That's one of many reasons why Towers isn't running the D-backs any longer, as Gregorius and Jeter couldn't be much more different. Jeter was an outstanding righthanded hitter but a poor fielder. Gregorius is an excellent defensive shortstop but a poor lefthanded hitter. Boasting a career .184/.257/.233 line against his fellow lefties, Gregorius had a hot run of 22 games to start his Diamondbacks career in 2013, but since May 21 of that season, he has hit just .221/.297/.333 over 609 plate appearances.
What's startling is that, even if he fails to improve on that performance in New York, Gregorius will represent an upgrade at shortstop for the Yankees. New York's shortstops hit just .233/.287/.292 in 2014, and with Jeter drawing 129 of the starts at that position in his age-40 season, were well below average in the field. Gregorius may only be a small upgrade at the plate, but he should be a significant upgrade in the field.
There's reason to expect more from Gregorius at the plate, as well. As bad as that .221/.297/.333 line looks, it includes 10 home runs, seven triples, and 44 unintentional walks. That modicum of power and patience suggests that, given a bit more luck on balls in play, Gregorius could turn in a productive season. Also, Gregorius won't be 25 until February, meaning he's on the right side of the development curve. I'm not particularly optimistic about Gregorius' potential at the plate, but given that he's still in his pre-arbitration years and comes with five years of team control, he's a nice addition for the Yankees.
The Diamondbacks also did well here. In Ray, they get a 23-year-old lefty with a live arm who reached the major leagues last year, albeit with poor results. Ray throws in the mid-90s, but with poor control and underwhelming secondary stuff. He may prove to be a reliever in the long run and will likely open the 2015 season in Triple A, but there are some scouts who are very high on him. Leyba, who just turned 19 in September, is a switch-hitting second baseman who turned some heads with a .397/.431/.483 line in 124 PA after his promotion to Low A in August. Leyba didn't hit a lick in the Arizona Fall League and hit just .264/.303/.375 in the short-season New York-Penn League earlier in the year, but he remains a compelling prospect, one Baseball America listed as the fifth-best in the Tigers' organization last month, two spots above Ray.
As to the Tigers' involvement in this trade, that's harder to figure. Greene, their sole return for Ray and Leyba, is a 26-year-old righty who pitched surprisingly well for the Yankees' decimated rotation after a midseason promotion, going 4-1 with a 3.11 ERA in his first nine major league starts. But Greene managed just one more quality start in his final five turns, going 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA with 4.6 walks per nine innings in September. Mix in his poor results in his Triple A debut at the age of 25 (4.61 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 2.19 K/BB in 13 starts and two relief appearances), and it's difficult to see why the Tigers thought Greene was worth two of their top seven prospects.
Sure, Greene, who works off a mid-90s sinker, might be a better rotation alternative than Ray in the short term, but he's not an obvious upgrade on lefty Kyle Lobstein in the fifth spot behind David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. Having previously swapped second base prospect Devon Travis for Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Gose, the Tigers have now traded three of their top seven prospects this winter with very little to show for it. Worse, their remaining return for Fister is now Greene and lefty reliever Ian Krol, who posted a 4.96 ERA in 45 games last year and didn't even make the postseason roster.