The Yankee infield is a hot topic right now and rightfully so. On Opening Day the Yanks will have a starting infield that’s entirely different from the one that opened the 2013 season. They’ve got 2 old/older players in Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira returning from serious injuries at first base and shortstop, they’ve lost Robbie Cano at second base and Alex Rodriguez at third base, and their current plan to replace the 2 of them appears to be the old “throw as much stuff at the wall as we possibly can and see what sticks” method.
An idea that I’ve seen mentioned multiple times in various blogs across the Yankosphere, and one that’s really been gaining steam in the comments section here is moving Jeter to third base and making Brendan Ryan the starting shortstop. In theory it makes a lot of sense and I totally understand why people are thinking this way. Jeter’s biggest defensive weakness is lateral movement. It always has been and it’s not going to get any better now that he’s turning 40 this year and coming off a litany of leg injuries. By moving him to third base, the Yankees could not only mask his defensive deficiencies and improve their overall infield defense, they could also protect him from re-injuring himself by cutting down on the ground he has to cover.
Again, this is all great in theory. There are 2 problems with that plan though. It would never work and it’s never going to happen. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to quickly explain why so we can all put this notion behind us and move on with our lives.
Simply put, the same things that make Jeter a crummy defensive shortstop – slow first step, limited lateral movement, and the resulting poor range – would also make him a crummy defensive third baseman. True there’s less ground to cover at third base, but a good third baseman still has to be able to move quickly to his left or right to snag hot shots near the line or choppers in the hole. Jeter can barely do that with more time to get an angle on the ball at short. How well would he handle that at 40 with less time and sharper angles? Answer, he wouldn’t.
There’s also the issue of Jeter’s weak arm. It doesn’t get mentioned nearly as much as his range when talking about his defensive game but it’s true. The jump throw from the hole looks awesome and I’m the first to admit that it’s one of my favorite individual plays in sports to watch. The reason Jeter does it, however, is not to get on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays but rather to generate more on the throw. If he ranged to his right, caught the ball, stopped, set himself, and threw from that deep in the hole, the ball would never get to the first baseman in time and runners would be safe. Jeter obviously wouldn’t have to make that play from third base, but he would have to make a longer, harder throw to first on every ball he fielded at third and his arm isn’t capable of doing that.
Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure I would want to see a 40-year-old Jeter try to charge a bunt down the third base line and make a barehand scoop and throw on the run. It’s not a familiar action to him and seems more likely to result in him tweaking something and hurting himself than making a highlight reel play.
The plain fact of the matter is that Jeter is too old, too brittle, and too inexperienced at third base to make moving him there now a smart move. A few years back it would have made more sense, but the Yankees were reluctant to do it because they had A-Rod at third* and because Jeter is Jeter. That’s the other thing to consider here. While we can say that he should be willing to do it and it’s what’s right for the team, we all have to be smart enough to realize that a New York sports icon with a reputation like Derek Jeter is not switching positions in what could be his final season. It’s just not happening. If it does, I’ll be the first one to write a blog saying I was wrong and inviting the entire comments section to call me an idiot.
Jeter moving to third base might sound good in theory. In reality, it would end up being even uglier than it is for him right now at short. It’s not a case of teaching an old dog new tricks, it’s a case of teaching a 3-legged dog with arthritis how to ride a unicycle. Jeter is going to be bad defensively wherever he plays. Might as well let him be bad at the one position he actually knows.
* P.S.- In case anybody has forgotten, A-Rod was a much better defensive shortstop than Jeter. Look it up.
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