The Jeter Conundrum-To-Be

Sam Borden at LoHud, Rob Neyer at, Joel Sherman of The New York Post, and Aziz at Pride of the Yankees have discussed the question of what the Yankees will do with Derek Jeter–and he with them–after his contract expires following the 2010 season.  Their opinions on what the Yankees should do regarding Jeter’s contract and likely position change from shortstop vary, but they on the whole agree that this will eventually be a huge issue for various reasons–Jeter’s range at short, whether or not his production justifies a possible move to the outfield, the $20 million he currently earns, all relating to his turning 37 in the middle of the 2011 season.  On Jeter’s side of the ledger, he will likely be on the cusp of 3,000 hits, something that remarkably no other Yankee has ever attained, he is the Yankee captain, an icon, the face of the franchise, a good upstanding if play-it-safe guy with his public pronouncements, and a marquee draw.

I agree that this will be a thorny issue with no easy way to settle it.  Each side will likely need to give ground on some of the following issues–salary, position, length of any subsequent contract, and others–in order to reach an agreement both sides can live with.  That won’t be at all easy, with Jeter’s evident pride in being THE Yankees shortstop, His salary, and status with the team to some degree at loggerheads with the team’s clear move this off-season to shedding players regardless of productivity, such as Abreu and Giambi, or dramatically scaling back the salaries of others filling key parts but in decline, such as Pettite, who are around 35 or older.  That will undeniably be Jeter in 2011, regardless of where fans, Jeter, and the organization stand.

What may complicate any decision on Jeter’s future is how well he produces the next two years.  Jeter will only enhance his bargaining position with the team should he approach his 2007 season–12 HR, 73 RBI, .322/.388, 206 hits, 102 runs, 39 doubles.  I for one wouldn’t be at all surprised if he managed to hit around his lifetime average of .316 in the next two years, even as he turns 35 this year.  Why? Jeter has hit .300 or higher in ten of his fourteen seasons, and reach 200 or more hits in six of those. In only three seasons has Jeter not scored 100 runs.  He managed to hit .300 despite playing with hand injuries for significant portions of the year, and score 88 runs for an offense that struggled to plate runners in the clutch. Jeter has an amazing capacity for resiliency that, in a career punctuated by clutch hits and plays, at times goes unnoticed.  That is, the dramatic acts in the lore of Jeter at times elide the more subtle adjustments and quotidian contributions he so frequently makes–offensive tears, good defensive qualities such as capably charging softly hit balls, excellent base running, being a step or two ahead of plays even as concerns spread about whether or not he has lost a step (or two).

Not all is peaches and cream with Jeter of late. It is true that his power numbers are down, with his homers declining from 14 in 2006 to 12 in 2007 and only 11 last year.  It is also true that he only managed 25 doubles last season after hitting 39 in each of the two previous years. Of equal concern is the drastic dropoff in his stolen bases, with his 15 in 2007 and 11 last year combined failing to match his career-high 34 in 2006.  Such numbers, while solid contributions and while holding out the possibility of an upswing the next two years and beyond, take on added significance because of Jeter’s age and because, with the obvious need for a better defensive shortstop on the horizon, because of the difficulty of moving Jeter elsewhere.

While his numbers may not suit the prototypical corner outfielder’s statistics, and while the Yankees might pursue Matt Holliday after this season, one can make a case for Jeter playing left.  He still has good speed, which I would differentiate from quickness, that would help him cover the vast left-center in Yankee Stadium. Having played short for well over a decade, he is also well attuned to dealing with the sun that has forever saddled left fielders.  His fearlessness would suit him well for dealing with walls, and his capacity for preparation is very good–should he be willing to switch positions, clearly no certainty.  Others have made the move to left, including Yogi, who always had more power than Jeter but was also, as a left-handed hitter, amply assisted by the short porch in right.  This move was easier for the Yankees to make not only because of Yogi’s productive, powerful bat but also manager Casey Stengel’s willingness to make adjustments, and the development of the outstanding Elston Howard as an equal replacement at catcher.  Currently, the Yankees lack a shortstop to replace Jeter.  If he’s willing, Jeter could play left with little trouble, I believe.

If his infield range is a concern, as sabermetricians and others frequently remind us, he could play third, with A-Rod moving to the outfield.  Jeter has always had good hands and a good, accurate arm. For those questioning his arm, I’ll say this–when I went to the Yankees game in Chicago last April, Jeter and Morgan Ensberg were playing long toss along the first base side, with Jeter stationed halfway between the right field fence and first base–probably a bit closer to the fence than first–and Ensberg about 40 feet from home.  Throwing for about 10 minutes, Jeter made all his throws on a line and without a bounce, while Ensberg, a career third baseman (the position requiring a good strong arm), made accurate throws but as many on one hop as not.  Jeter doesn’t have a gun, but he possesses a good accurate arm.  He also anticipates very well, and has always made charging plays from short look easy.  He could do the same at third–with the arm to play left, by the way, especially with a history of making excellent relay throws from shallow left. His jump throws may also work well from around or even behind third as they do from the hole at short, though last year showed a little less on those jump throws than in years past.  Maybe that was a result of his hand injuries’ maybe not. But I have no doubt that he could do well either in left or at third.  The main questions are his willingness to do so, and the Yankees’ willingness to tolerate decent offensive production from Jeter at traditionally power-hitting positions.

Relatedly, I have no doubt that A-Rod, who still possesses good speed, a gun of an arm, an incredible work ethic, and the willingness to make adjustments exceedingly well, could play left or right field with the stick to more than justify the transition should this positional chain reaction transpire.  In no small part, I raise A-Rod’s name because he has an impressive history of switching and learning a new position, and because with his expensive, long-term salary and that of others, A-Rod quite likely offers the best person currently with the team to move somewhere, stay productive, and importantly, keep the DH spot open for Posada or another, including Jeter, to occasionally or frequently play.

Personally, I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest to see Jeter have two good years at the plate in 2009 and 2010, then sign a lucrative two-year deal with a position switch involved to allow him to reach 3,000 hits as a Yankee and, hopefully, retire in pinstripes.  Seeing Jeter either reach 3,000 hits or retire, say, with Seattle or Pittsburgh with be an abject disservice to all parties involved, including the fans. I’d like to also see Jeter offered an opportunity to invest in the Yankees and/or join as an executive, which he has expressed the desire to do somewhere after he retires.  The Yankees need to look to the future, and I admit that some of these moves are a lot to ask of all parties, and plainly not easy.  But while undoubtedly early–indeed jumping the gun a bit–these questions will only become more pressing with time, and have undoubtedly been discussed among the Yankees’ inner sanctum at some level, but can be accomplished with some patience, finessing, and flexibility from everyone.

Whether or not Jeter, the Yankees, and any other players possibly affected will do so and stay happy and with the team–increasingly expecting much these days–is the question.

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 10:07 am  Comments (11)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i’m glad you weighed in on this as well, but i wish joel sherman hadn’t started it all so soon. i guess it’s a welcome relief from the torre bashing. i’ll really miss jeter when the inevitable time comes, but i really don”t want to see a declining jeter embarrass himself on the field. i said this at joe’s place. i hope he either decides to retire and joins the coaching staff right away or that he signs a 2 year deal so he can get his 3000 hits but is the DH. after 2011 won’t jorge be gone as well? i think that we should have an open DH spot. why lose runs because of poor D. lets keep the captain, but just have him hit.

    i’m about halfway through the torre book- it’s as good a sports book as i’ve ever read. no one should be upset about this. after the dust settles it will be highly regarded.

  2. I feel the same way about Sherman’s piece Mike, and posted so at Pride of the Yankees–one of my new favorite blogs. I’d like to see Jeter stay and stay in the lineup, especially because I don’t see his bat declining too much yet–3 years from now, quite possibly, but he has been remarkably consistent at the plate. I see him re-signing and for a pretty penny, but not for a long time after 2010.

    Speaking of moving past the Torre book, and you’re comments are very interesting Mike, how about reporting that A-Rod tested positive for steroids in 2003? Good grief.

  3. When I heard the news I didn’t care that much let the haters hate but the more I hear the more it hurts.

    I dont get ESPN but basically, don’t watch ESPN for the next 8 months.

  4. Same here, Nick. As with Bonds, I don’t like that the alleged anonymity was breached, and who knows by whom–government? Aside from the likelihood that A-Rod did in fact test positive, and lie about it at least once (“60 Minutes”), leaking his name–and no others, yet again and much to my chagrin–really irks me. I say that regardless of guilt or innocence.

    Count on this being splattered all over ESPN from this weekend through October, as you say astutely say Nick.

    If word about Orza is true, that he was giving players a heads-up about tests looming, he should resign. I wonder if A-Rod and/or others will sue about breaching the confidentiality of this. The prevalence of steroids is wretched. So are such leaks. This entails people’s medical history.

  5. The thing is Jason you know people/media won’t give a damn about the leak they will just fire insults at Alex and the Yankees. Its sad but true were the only team to do steriods you know all the other teams are all angels.

    I hope Alex does go the Clemens and Bonds way he will just get buried. Alex should just comes out (if he did it) and just admit it he messed up, admit he lied about it on the 60mins interview and admit he was an idiot.

  6. Able to check in on my sister’s computer while I get upgraded (Cue Beyonce). Anyway, it’s a problem. One good point someone made I put over on my blog. I’m not sure who made it, Sherman or Rob Neyer…the fact that only one SS 37 or over has even made it to the WS—that being Pee Wee Reese for the Dodgers in 1956. No one else.

    It will be a problem. 1B is out. 3B most likely is out (and of course now there is news about THAT guy…). DH most likely out (you’d like a DH with more power…Paul Molitor being an exception in the early 1990s)…so that leaves ? Corner OF is tough—you’d like more power. CF? Could Derek do that or will he be too old? Remember very few CF over 35 have won WS since Joe DiMaggio in 1951. I believe Edmonds, Finley … maybe Shelby (1988 Dodgers) … Proving the need for range and youth up the middle, esp. in CF and at SS.

    It will be an interesting take on Derek, and as noted, one the Yanks are probably looking at NOW.

  7. Sorry I made a mistake in my last post I hope Alex doesnt go the Clemens and Bonds way.

  8. I think that might have to be the course A-Rod pursues to tamp this whole mess down, Nick. ESPN will have a field day with this for some time.

    Sorry to hear about your computer problems, Mike S. For me, those are right at the bottom with car and house problems. That’s how essential computers have become. I believe that was Sherman who made the point about aging shortstops, Mike. Yeah, I don’t doubt for a second that the Yankees have had some internal discussions about Jeter post-2010 either. It won’t be an easy decision, and I admit my post contained more than a little hope about him staying past 2010.

    I agree, Nick. Clemens and Bonds have become pariahs.

  9. On Jeter in LF Mike, I’d take it at his current production. I’d like more power from there too but, should the Yanks not sign a player like Holliday, they should get good power production elsewhere. My concern is that if Jeter should fade to, say, 7-10 homers in a couple years. That’s REALLY low for a LF. But should Jeter stay around where he’s been the last few years, 11-15 homers, I’d take it as long as the average is .300 or better. I say this because, as long as power comes from other sources, that HR level (slightly higher) is fine for me from JD right now because he’s on base, scoring runs, stealing bases, and playing a good left. I’ll live with less power from Jeter in left if he’s on base, hitting for average, and scoring runs while hitting a couple homers a month.

    But admittedly, all that banks a bit on his staying steady at the plate. I’m hoping Jeter has a good degree of what Mariano has in him–the ability to stay very good and defy age and he’s-due-to-drop-off murmurs.

  10. Just needed upgrade. old operating system. feel naked w/out it though. damn technology. makes me envy the amish!

  11. I didn’t quite get back to your comment about media mud-slinging at A-Rod, Nick. It will happen, we both know it. What bothers me most about it, honestly, is that A-Rod has been pilloried in the media and among a lot of Yankees and anti-Yankees fans, primarily because of the dough he makes. Yet so many baseball owners and others who make gobs of cash, screw players out of money with tightwad actions in negotiations, screw fans by failing to invest in their teams, while making money through good ticket prices and revenue sharing get off pain-free in the media. The issues of steroids and financial greed are unrelated, I acknowledge. But my point is that A-Rod is a media magnet/pariah primarily because of how much money he makes–because of his class position as a high-profile, skilled athlete. Yet other wealthy executives, who do far less in and for the game yet have become even wealthier in their positions and their franchises more valuable regardless of their success (or lack thereof), get no guff for being leeches in the game.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: