Right now, I'd have to say about equivalent to those of an asteroid made of cotton candy colliding with the earth, which I presume are pretty close to zero.
But by the end of the 2013 season? Yeah, I can see the odds taking a hike. Even ballplayers as indestructible as Jeter can't hold off retirement forever, and it could be a realistic option after this season's 162 games are safely in the books.
Like that, I just set off a few thousand "Jeter Doubter" alarms.
Including, most likely, that of ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor, who penned a column on Tuesday warning the critics that they're only going to succeed in motivating Jeter. He may be likely to start the season on the disabled list—Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has the word—due to his recovery from left ankle surgery, but he's still Derek Jeter, darn it.
All the same, there are a few dire hypotheticals for the coming season that have the power to change the situation. And they are...
What If Jeter Can't Field?
This is a trick question. Jeter already can't field.
Yeah, yeah. The guy's got five Gold Gloves and is well-known around the world for making that one dazzling jump-throw in the hole that only he can make. Stuff about his instincts. End of argument.
That's how these chats usually go, but there's far more evidence in favor of Jeter being a subpar defensive shortstop than there is in favor of him being a quality defensive shortstop. Especially nowadays.
Jeter had a darn good season on defense in 2009, a year in which he posted an 8.0 UZR/150 and three Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs. Coincidentally, this wasn't long after Yankees general manager Brian Cashman challenged Jeter to improve his defense, which O'Connor wrote about in The Captain (Sports Illustrated has the excerpt).
But in the three years since then, it hasn't been pretty. The following table shows Jeter's UZR/150, DRS and RZR (Revised Zone Rating) from the past three seasons, as well as his rank among everyday MLB shortstops in each category.
|Year||UZR/150||UZR/150 Rank||DRS||DRS Rank||RZR||RZR Rank|
The rough translation here is that if Jeter isn't the worst defensive shortstop in the majors, he's certainly the leading candidate.
Jeter is not going to get better defensively in 2013. That surgically-repaired left ankle is going to make it extremely difficult for him to improve his range, which is already well below-average.
Beyond that, it's extremely unlikely that Jeter is going to make 84 percent of his starts at short as he did last year. It's asking a lot for him to even make 75 percent of his starts at shortstop. According to Baseball-Reference.com, there are only a handful of 39-year-olds in MLB history who played 75 percent of their games at shortstop (minimum 100 games played). It's a young man's position.
It's a good bet that Jeter will be spending quite a bit of time in the DH spot this year, and he may even find himself playing a position other than shortstop. Cashman hinted at a future move to the outfield back in 2011, and the Yankees could need Jeter at third base if Kevin Youkilis happens to join Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list for an extended period of time.
The Yankees may decide to move Jeter off shortstop even if there's no clear place to put him. Because of all the power they've lost, they're not going to be as much about run generation this year. To help make up for that, they must be as much about run prevention as possible, and that involves fielding their best defense day after day.
That could involve Eduardo Nunez at short, or perhaps a trade acquisition.
Shortstop is the only position Jeter has ever known. Considering his reputation, it's the only position he's ever wanted to know. If it's taken away from him this year, one of two reactions could be inspired.
The first involves Jeter getting riled up and then doing everything in his power to prove that he can still play short in 2014, in which case he certainly wouldn't be retiring.
The other involves Jeter seeing the logic in his removal from the shortstop position and—gasp!—accepting it. If it comes to that, he could either hang around at another position or decide to call it a career.
If he can still hit, my guess is that Jeter would be willing to hang around at another position. But about that...
What If Jeter Can't Hit?
This is the part where I tell you that Jeter's 2012 season was a fluke , and that everyone should stop raving about it.
I may have used the F-word in conjunction with Jeter's 2012 season at one point. It certainly looks like a fluke, as there must be some sort of witchcraft involved when a player goes from hitting .282/.347/.378 the prior two seasons to hitting .316/.362/.429 with a league-high 216 hits the next.
But a closer look at the situation reveals Jeter's 2012 season not to be a fluke, but to be a continuation of a very strong second half in 2011.
Jeter hit .270/.330/.353 in the first half of 2011. In the second half, he rebounded to hit .327/.383/.428, with the key being a huge increase in BABIP. Jeter's was .294 in the first half, and .388 in the second half.
It helped that he made better contact, as FanGraphs can show that Jeter's line-drive percentage in 2011 went from 12.2 in the first half to 27.3 in the second half, a much more Jeter-like number.
Numbers such as these shouldn't have been sustainable in 2012. But sure enough, there was Jeter at the end of the year with a .316/.362/.429 line, a .347 BABIP and a 21.7 line-drive percentage (see FanGraphs). That there's a season very much worth a tip of one's cap.
But the big question lingers anyway: Can Jeter do it again?
The projections say no. Refer to the most recent FanGraphs link, and you'll see that Bill James is projecting a .298/.359/.400 line for Jeter, which would be a decent-sized step back on the average and slugging fronts. The ZiPS projection for Jeter calls for a .277/.337/.369 line, which would be a step back to where he was in 2010.
These two projections have a couple of things working for them. One is the fact that Jeter needs a high BABIP more than most hitters to be productive, and history says the odds of him repeating a .347 BABIP in his age-39 season are unlikely. Baseball-Reference.com can show that only three 39-year-olds in history have managed BABIPs higher than .340.
Beyond that, there's the ankle. If it's barking all season long, Jeter's capacity to hit could be compromised.
If Jeter's hitting does take a step back in 2013, his quest for baseball glory is going to slow to a crawl. He's up over 3,300 career hits, but he's eyeing 4,000 hits, and O'Connor noted in his column that Jeter would love to break Pete Rose's all-time hits record:
And yes, there are those who know Jeter who believe he wants Rose's career hits record of 4,256 as badly as Rose wanted Joe DiMaggio's record hitting streak of 56. The captain needs 952 to tie.
Jeter still has a long way to go to get to Rose, and the way is going to become even longer if it becomes apparent that he doesn't have any more 200-hit seasons left in him.
If Jeter's bat does fail him in 2013, two more possibilities come to light.
The first, naturally, is that Jeter will do the Derek Jetery thing and press on in defiance of his increasing age and declining numbers, in which case he would be seen again in 2014.
The other is that he'll see the writing on the wall. His spirit would no doubt be willing, but he'd be looking at three subpar seasons out of four in his old age, a less-than-encouraging sample size.
Even without a good bat or the shortstop position to call home, Jeter could always stick around to share in the Yankees' glory in 2014 and beyond. But about that...
What If the Yankees Are No Good?
...They're just a bad team by Yankees standards. Like each one of the Jaws sequels, this year's Yankees team looks like a watered-down version of the real thing.
That much was apparent at the outset of spring training, when the Yankees came into camp sans A-Rod, Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano and Russell Martin, the latter three of whom left as free agents over the winter.
The spring could have brought good news, but it hasn't. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are both going to be on the shelf for a few weeks to start the season due to injuries. Bryan Hoch says Phil Hughes is likely to begin the season on the DL as well. Jeter, of course, is very likely to join the lot.
In response to all the injuries, the best pick-me-ups the Yankees have been able to find are guys like Chien-Ming Wang, who hasn't been a relevant major league pitcher since 2007, and now Vernon Wells, who posted a .667 OPS over the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and is just another old guy for a roster that's already too old.
Odds are the Yankees will find a way to contend for a spot in the postseason. To that end, their track record speaks for itself.
But a legit World Series contender? Nope. The 2010, 2011 or 2012 Yankees weren't good enough to make it there, and these Yankees don't have the talent of those clubs. To boot, the AL East is going to be a more hotly contested battleground this season than it's been in years. The Yankees are part of a very level playing field.
Instead of contending to go to the World Series, it looks at least as likely that this could be the year the Yankees' bubble finally bursts. This season could be for them what the 2012 season was to the Boston Red Sox.
In sticking with our central theme here, what if it happens? What if 2013 does prove to be the year that the Yankees finally fall from grace? What will Jeter do then?
If it does happen, it stands to reason that the potential struggles we've discussed regarding Jeter are going to be a significant part of the reason why the Yankees did fall from grace.
And if that happens, it stands to reason that Cashman and the front office will start looking around for an heir apparent to Jeter, who has no commitment of any kind to the Yankees beyond 2013.
And here's where we could again find either the defiant Jeter or the realistic Jeter coming to the fore.
The defiant Jeter would convince himself that the Yankees still have some life in them and that he's still capable of helping the ballclub.
The other Jeter would see a lost cause when looking at the Yankees and decide that he's better off riding into the sunset than trying to fight a battle he can't possibly win.
Way back when, I said that the odds right now of Jeter retiring after 2013 are essentially zilch. His situation is uncertain heading into the season, but not that uncertain.
But you had better believe that this season could take a toll on Jeter. Not just physically, as every season does, but psychologically as well. It would be a perfect storm of things to make that happen, but a removal from shortstop, poor hitting and lots of losing would make for a pretty perfect storm.
Bear in mind that Jeter wouldn't even be particularly well compensated if he were to return in 2014. Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, his 2014 player option is only worth an $8 million base, and has since only risen to $9.5 million, thanks to the Silver Slugger he won last year.
That would be a significant pay cut from the $17 million Jeter is slated to make this year, and it's the kind of money he can afford to leave on the table seeing, as how he's already made a pile of cash higher than Mt. Everest in his career.
So if 2013 is as much of a disaster as it could be, there won't be much to draw Jeter back into the fold. If he were to return following the disaster that was 2013, it would be for pride.
However, we're talking about a guy who could walk away from the game with lots of pride just as easily. If Jeter were to retire after 2013, he'd do so with very, very little left to prove.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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