The temptations who threatened Yankees’ Didi Gregorius pursuit

From June 30 through July 3 of 2014, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Orioles swept the Rangers in a four-game series. The Orioles proceeded to win the American League East, and the Rangers wound up finishing poorly enough to select fourth overall in the 2015 amateur draft.

The Yankees had a professional scout, Tim Naehring, at that series, yet his job wasn’t to eyeball the Orioles to help slow them down in the pennant race. Rather, Naehring was on a long-range mission.

“I remember when Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy matched up in a four-gamer in Baltimore,” Naehring, now the Yankees’ vice president of baseball operations, said last week. “I watched those two. Joe Espada did the same thing. We were looking across the board for, ‘What are the options?’”

The mission, as you might have guessed, was to find Derek Jeter’s replacement. It proved to be a huge success, with Didi Gregorius off to a fantastic start in his fourth year on the job after showing progress last season.

Jeter’s surprising public heads-up of his retirement, in February 2014, proceeded to inadvertently hijack the Yankees season, putting massive pressure on Joe Girardi to not only start the declining 40-year-old regularly at shortstop, but also to hit him high in the lineup. In retrospect, though, Jeter’s announcement also did the Yankees a favor: It allowed them to conduct a wide search for their next shortstop in plain sight, without having to worry about offending the sensitive Jeter.

“We didn’t have the option internally to plug and play a young man,” Naehring said. “You heard all the arguments: Is it a situation where you get a veteran-type guy that may be a stop gap? Who may be able to handle the American League and has more history and can handle the press and handle the pressure of replacing Jeter, and then you take that period of time and you try to develop and/or find the right deal?

“The bottom line was Cash [Yankees general manager Brian Cashman] saw an opportunity. Arizona was dealing with having [Nick] Ahmed and Chris Owings, and they were dealing from a strength.”

Naehring, whose primary assignment in ’14 was the National League, had filed a glowing report on the Diamondbacks’ Gregorius, as had Espada, who saw the 24-year-old at Arizona’s Triple-A Reno affiliate (where he played for about two months before getting promoted to the big leagues) and became Gregorius’ infield coach with the Yankees from 2015 through 2017; Espada now works as the Astros’ bench coach. So the Yankees took the risk on the low-salaried, low-service-time Gregorius, giving up on young pitcher Shane Greene, who had displayed considerable promise in his rookie season.

As for that Rangers-Orioles series? Hardy, then 32, was in his walk year, yet he never made it to free agency. The Orioles re-signed him to a three-year deal, which they announced just as they opened the AL Championship Series; he played well in 2016, not so much 2015 or 2017. He is currently unsigned after the Orioles declined his team option for 2018.

Andrus, then 26 and in the middle of a terrible season, was signed through 2022 for nine figures, with an opt-out after 2018. At the 2014 general managers’ meetings, The Post’s Joel Sherman reported on the Yankees’ interest in Andrus, who would have represented a considerable financial risk. Andrus rebounded in 2015 and remains the Rangers’ shortstop, with that opt-out looming.

You’d bet that the Yankees, given the chance to try again on that momentous decision … would trade for Gregorius again.

— Let’s catch up on Pop Quiz questions:

1. From Kevin Madden of Williamsburg, Va.: In the 1973 TV movie “The Marcus-Nelson Murders,” a suspect asks Lt. Kojak (Telly Savalas) how a certain Yankees player performed in the previous night’s game. Name the player.

2. From Gary Mintz of South Huntington: Name the former ballpark mentioned in Neil Young’s song “Pocahontas.”

— Your Pop Quiz answers:

1. Joe Pepitone

2. The Astrodome

If you have a tidbit that connects popular culture with baseball, please send it to me at [email protected]

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