But significant injuries now threaten their baseball careers, or at least their futures as everyday players.
On Thursday, general manager Brian Cashman reluctantly informed us that the latest setback in Jeter's recovery from a fractured ankle will keep him sidelined past the All-Star break (via Bryan Hoch, MLB.com). He made a similar approximation about A-Rod's return following the third baseman's offseason hip surgery.
Will Carroll, Bleacher Report's own injury expert, interprets the "positive steps" made by Jeter in spring training as an indication that he'll be back in pinstripes this summer. He added, "Jeter's fracture was not as complicated as the injuries to Buster Posey or Stephen Drew," who were involved in home-plate collisions in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Bob Klapisch of The Record exudes less optimism. He reminisces about Joe DiMaggio's bone spurs in 1949 that led to his retirement two seasons later. Klapisch salutes Jeter's determination—his "desire to win"—while noting that Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS may have been his final major league contest.
ESPN's Buster Olney wondered which other old position players returned to prominence after long absences (Insider access required).
Elias Sports programmer/analyst Kevin Hines responded with the following table. It includes all MLB players over the past 100 years who missed at least half their teams' games at age 38 or older yet eventually became regulars again (400-plus plate appearances):
|2007||Barry Bonds||San Francisco Giants||42|
|2006||Barry Bonds||San Francisco Giants||41|
|1999||Chili Davis||New York Yankees||39|
|1999||Tony Phillips||Oakland Athletics||39|
|1997||Brett Butler||Los Angeles Dodgers||39|
|1991||Carlton Fisk||Chicago White Sox||43|
|1990||Carlton Fisk||Chicago White Sox||42|
|1989||Carlton Fisk||Chicago White Sox||41|
|1957||Hank Sauer||New York Giants||39|
|1949||Luke Appling||Chicago White Sox||42|
|1948||Luke Appling||Chicago White Sox||41|
|1947||Luke Appling||Chicago White Sox||40|
|1946||Luke Appling||Chicago White Sox||39|
Olney is skeptical that the Yankees captain can join the list:
The lessons drawn from historical precedent suggest players of his age -- Jeter will be 39 by the time he would return after the All-Star break -- almost never come back after a year of diminished playing time.
Let's say Jeter doesn't make it back to the Bronx in 2013. He would still have 9.5 million reasons to continue rehabbing this coming winter, according to Baseball Prospectus.
His 2014 player option—originally valued at $8 million—swelled by $1.5 million when he won the Silver Slugger at shortstop last season. Though Jeter hasn't settled for a seven-figure salary since 1999, doing so under such circumstances would be a no-brainer, especially because his earnings could balloon to $17 million by reaching certain award-based incentives.
And the Yankees will genuinely encourage him. Their only other major league-ready alternative at the position, Eduardo Nunez, is a lesser offensive threat and an abominable fielder.
Cashman could attempt to fill the void with a free-agent signing, but the crop of available shortstops projects to be pretty weak:
|Name||Current Team||WAR per season (2010-2012)|
|Clint Barmes||Pittsburgh Pirates||1.9 WAR|
|Stephen Drew||Boston Red Sox||1.8 WAR|
|Jhonny Peralta||Detroit Tigers||2.6 WAR|
|Brendan Ryan||Seattle Mariners||3.1 WAR|
Meanwhile, neither team executives nor many fans would care to see Alex Rodriguez back at the hot corner. He is strikeout-prone, "un-clutch" and simply annoying.
Back in January, Daily News writers Bill Madden, Christian Red and Teri Thompson claimed the 37-year-old was "unlikely to ever wear the pinstripes again." Rodriguez's ailing hip and monstrous contract render him immovable via trade, but baseball sources suggested that a cash settlement or outright retirement could bring an end to this soured relationship.
Forget about the latter. New York owes him $114 million provided he doesn't formally quit, so why would he? To salvage his reputation? No, this month's leak from The New York Times was a knockout blow. His alleged attempt to purchase documents from Biogenesis, the anti-aging clinic/performance-enhancing drug distributor, was beyond pathetic.
If Major League Baseball's investigation finds irrefutable evidence of A-Rod's PED usage, then they'll obviously suspend him.
But can he return to the Yankees lineup before then? Manager Joe Girardi tells MLB.com's Bryan Hoch that rehab is gradually progressing:
Alex Rodriguez told Joe Girardi that he is now able to run slowly on a treadmill. "He was pretty fired up about that," Girardi said.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 13, 2013
I repeat: gradually. There's no hurry to accelerate the post-All-Star break timetable just yet.
And even if Rodriguez makes it all the way back, why would Girardi insert him at third base? Kevin Youkilis has softer hands and better flexibility than any geezer with a busted hip. Rather, we would likely see the sport's active home run leader platooning with designated hitter Travis Hafner or pinch-hitting.
The question was, "Will we ever see Derek Jeter/Alex Rodriguez left side of Yankees infield again?" The answer is maybe.
Perhaps there's a 30 percent chance of both men rejoining the team this summer and being active at the same time and convincing Girardi that they can handle their longtime defensive assignments. But while Jeter is likely to exercise his 2014 option, count on ownership arranging a buyout of Rodriguez's contract, regardless of what we learn about Biogenesis.
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