Happy Friday, all. I hope your week hasn’t been too stressful. Anyway, let’s get down to business. We’re all aware of Derek Jeter‘s injury situation. Opening Day has long been Jeter’s goal, but that now appears in jeopardy. Yesterday, GM Brian Cashman announced that Jeter would no longer participate in Major League Spring Training games; however, he’ll continue to play in Minor League games. As we’ve all heard by now, this is essentially a clerical “just in case.” It allows Jeter to get game action, but also allows the Yankees to retroactively place Jeter on the 15-day Disabled List in case he isn’t ready to go for Opening Day. This all makes me think that they should just place Jeter on the DL now.
The Derek Jeter we’ve all come to know and love is the guy who “shows up to work every day” and just “does his job” (and does it exceedingly well most of the time). Like any successful worker, Jeter is goal-oriented, and in this case, Opening Day readiness is the goal and he’s been steadfast in his determination to reach that goal. That effort is certainly laudable, but is this “toughness” actually a good thing? Being in the lineup on Opening Day is certainly admirable, but if Jeter isn’t field-ready by then, can’t we argue that it hurts the team just as much as–if not more than–it would if he just sat out for the first few games and returned on April 6th? Granted, Eduardo Nunez isn’t going to be any great shakes at short for those few games, but how effective would an injured Derek Jeter be? His range is already limited and now he’s got another year to his name as well as an ankle plate and some screws to match. Wouldn’t it be better to get the DL stint out of the way now rather than in May or June when he’s an absolute statue in the field and possibly unbalanced at the plate?
We discussed this as a staff earlier on in the day and Steve Shaka had an interesting observation about holding Jeter back in minor league camp. His words:
…I wonder if the Yanks are using this ‘sending him to the minors for the rest of camp’ as indicating something else is going on. If he’s healthy enough to play in the minors, he should be fine to play in big league camp, no? I wonder if they haven’t liked what they’ve seen from him defensively and this is an excuse to see if he can improve over time w/o hurting the big club.
Though I could be dead wrong, he’s scheduled to come back April 6th and this could all be about not losing a roster spot for the first few days of the year. But if Nunez is a highlight reel out there (which he’s capable of when his throws are accurate) it does lay some groundwork for finally moving Jeter off SS.
The first part is definitely plausible, but I disagreed with the second part. I think it’s just too late to move him off of shortstop now. I’m sure Brian Cashman and others in the organization have wanted to move Jeter off of short for a while, but just haven’t been able to get the support. And, at this point, where do you move Jeter? He’s too old and injured to move to the outfield and he won’t hit enough to carry first. Hell, he may even be too old to properly learn a new position.
Steve suggested left field, since the Melky Mesa/Juan Rivera situation that’s brewing out there isn’t too encouraging. Again, I disagreed slightly. Rivera shouldn’t touch the outfield–he should play first and DH–and neither should Jeter. Mesa may end up being raw and unpolished at the plate, but the dude can flat out fly in the outfield. Let him play there and he can probably contribute on the defensive side of things. Left field is huge in YS3 and I don’t want a player–Jeter–with a bum ankle trying to track balls down out there. Not only will it hurt the left field defense, but it’ll cause Brett Gardner to shade over towards left, which will leave a gap in right center field. This wouldn’t concern me as much if Ichiro were younger and still able to cover lots of ground, but he, too, is a little old and can’t field like he used to.
As a semi-concession, I posited Jeter in right with Ichiro in left. That wouldn’t be so bad range-wise, but again, I really don’t want a guy with an injured ankle trying to track down fly balls. The Yankees have lived with poor defense in right field before–Gary Sheffield, Bobby Abreu–but those guys could more than carry the position with their bats. As a corner outfielder, there’s no way Derek Jeter could do that. He’s likely to be awful at short–perhaps worse than he’s ever been–but at least his bat plays there, and plays there at a high level. Even if his offense takes a bit of a step back, he’s still going to be one of the top offensive shortstops in the game and liable to be a net positive there thanks to the runs he creates with the bat. With Jeter’s contract winding down, we’re only looking at two more years of his defense at short until someone else takes over. That got me thinking positively about something I never thought I would…the possibility of Eduardo Nunez actually taking over at short when Jeter retires and being okay there.
Nunez will turn 26 on June 15 (birthday twins! 6/15/87!), so he’d be in the middle of his age-based prime when Jeter’s gone. Though small, there is a chance that Nunez improves by that time. If he does, I’d liken it to the situation the Phillies had a few years ago with Jim Thome and Ryan Howard. They let Thome play out the string in Philadelphia while letting Howard (over) develop. When Thome did finally depart, Howard was old for a prospect, but about to enter his prime. If not for that ridiculous extension, the Phillies were set up to get huge value from a guy in his prime before letting him walk and get scooped up for his decline years. I wonder if the Yankees could do the same with Nunez, though with obviously less spectacular returns. Maybe they could squeeze a good season or two out of Eduardo before letting him walk for a bigger deal than they deem necessary or fit.
I realize that most of this is academic; we know there’s no way in hell that Jeter moves off of short while he’s stil playing. We should also realize that there’s a non-zero chance that he gets another contract after 2014, even if Brian Cashman is kicking and screaming about it the whole time. But to wrap this up with my original point, please, Derek, swallow your pride and start the season on the DL. Your effort is noble and we all appreciate it, but it’s for the betterment of the team if you just sit out now rather than later. The Opening Day lineup may be ugly without you, but that won’t matter much come mid-late season when the team needs you healthy. Just sit. Please.