One of the first moves the Yankees made this offseason, before they really started throwing money around, was re-signing Brendan Ryan to be Derek Jeter's defensive caddy at shortstop. There was mutual interest in a return after Ryan finished last season as the starting shortstop and looked incredibly good doing it, and at the time a deal to shore up the defense at the most important infield position made a lot of sense. Nobody knew what to expect from Jeter after his injury-plagued 2013 campaign except that he would be back for another year, and the list of productive 40-year-old shortstops isn't a long one. When Jeter signed a new, more lucrative deal of his own, it looked like he might be planning to stick around beyond 2014 and the Yanks responded by locking up Ryan for 2 years guaranteed plus a mutual option for a 3rd year.
Almost 3 months after the signing, it looks like the Yankees may have been too quick with the trigger on Ryan. Jeter announced that the 2014 season will be his last, effectively negating the need for Ryan in 2015 and 2016 or at the very least making it much less of a priority than it was in November. With a possible upgrade a third base and potential replacement for Jeter next year in Stephen Drew still available and the Yankees still not moving on him, I can't help but wonder how much the decision to sign Ryan for multiple years is impacting the decision to hold off on Drew. It's almost as if the Yankees didn't expect Drew to be on the market this long and now they don't want to saddle themselves with multi-year deals for 2 players who play the same position.
If they could go back and do it over, I bet they'd make the Ryan deal only 1 year or at least eliminate that 3rd year option. Now they're stuck paying him as much as $10 million for another 2 years when they really only need him for $2.5 mil and this year. The extra years and high level of performances incentives was surprising and a bit unnecessary from the beginning. Ryan's a standout defender, but he is well below-average with the bat and he was traded to the Yankees for cash considerations. He's not the type of player to give a 3-year deal to and he wasn't going to get a deal like this one from any other team. The Yankees were in a tough spot with respect to their shortstop depth, desperate almost, and they acted desperately to sign Ryan and ensure that they had 1 viable option should things go south with Jeter's health again.
Once the final out of the 2014 Yankee season is recorded, the final chapter to the story of the greatest shortstop in team history will be closed and a new era will be ready to begin. The potential 2014-2015 free agent class is a pretty solid one at short. Guys like Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera would all be capable replacements for Jeter, albeit replacement who all come with their own flaws and health risks. There's also a potential Jeter replacement available in the form of 23-year-old Cuban Aledmys Diaz, who will be eligible to sign with any MLB team next week and who the Yankees scouted at his showcase workout yesterday. Given how slow they've been to move on Drew and the now much longer lingering presence of Ryan, it'll be interesting to see how aggressive the Yanks are in pursuing Diaz.
There's certainly nothing wrong with having 2 or too many shortstops, especially if both of them can hold their own with the glove. But with the way things have gone down with Jeter and Drew over the course of this offseason, I think there has to be some regret in the Yankee front office about giving those extra years to Ryan. He's gone from being an immediate insurance policy they had to have to a longer-term luxury that they don't really need, and those are the type of players you don't necessarily want taking up spots on the 40-man roster.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)