As the 39-year-old shortstop exited the active roster with a strained calf, his future as a healthy and productive major league player would have been the topic of conversation on the YES Network and MLB Network on Monday night had it not been for the Biogenesis fallout and Rodriguez appeal.
Heading into an offseason that holds an $8 million player option for Jeter to decide upon, it's becoming increasingly clear that his days are numbered. From the fractured ankle last October to multiple setbacks to the quad injury upon returning to the recent sore calf, Jeter's body is betraying him.
For a player as durable and productive as Jeter since debuting in 1996, it's strange to see his body fail him before his skill set truly diminishes.
Simply put, Derek Jeter can still hit enough to be a top-of-the-order bat in any lineup. Last season, Jeter led the American League in hits (216) and posted a .791 OPS. This year, while spending all but five games sidelined, only three shortstops (Jean Segura, Jhonny Peralta and Ian Desmond) have eclipsed Jeter's OPS mark from 2012. Considering that Peralta is now serving a 50-game suspension for connection to Biogenesis, a healthy Derek Jeter would still profile as one of the best offensive shortstops in the game.
Yet the 13-time All-Star can't stay healthy long enough to provide a jolt to the Yankees offense.
Considering how durable Jeter was from 1996-2012, the frustration inside the New York dugout and clubhouse must be overwhelming. On his way to contributing 72.2 WAR for a dominant string of Yankees teams, Jeter averaged 151 games played per season over his first 17 big league campaigns. Outside of a long-term calf injury in 2011 and dislocated shoulder in 2003, Jeter was allergic to the disabled list.
That durability helped him rack up over 3,000 hits and surpass all but two (Omar Vizquel and Luis Aparico) shortstops on the all-time games played list for the position.
Now, as Jeter is sidelined again, it's fair to wonder if the wear and tear of playing a demanding defensive position, rarely taking a day off and racking up nearly 12,000 plate appearances has caught up to his aging body.
The thought of retirement hasn't crossed Jeter's lips to reporters around the team, but he wouldn't put anything like that out for public consumption.
With a reasonable player option, for both team and player, it's likely that the shortstop will enter 2014 on his last long-term contract ever from the New York Yankees. With one year left to stay healthy and prove his worth for 2015 and beyond, the season could take on a farewell-tour atmosphere, even if Jeter isn't keen on the idea.
Regardless of how Jeter's contract status shakes out from now through the end of 2014, it's becoming more and more apparent that New York will look for an adequate contingency plan this winter. In Jeter's absence, luminaries such as Chris Nelson, Eduardo Nunez, Reid Brignac, Alberto Gonzalez and Luis Cruz combined to post a collective slugging percentage under .300.
Of course, Nunez was held out of franchise-changing trade talks to provide left-side-of-the-infield relief when Jeter and/or Alex Rodriguez missed time or transitioned to the designated hitter spot of the lineup. Due to his own injury and ineffectiveness, the losses of Jeter and Rodriguez were exacerbated.
Offensively, Jeter may rebound in September or hit enough in 2014 to warrant a discussion about a run at Tris Speaker and top five of the all-time hit list. Yet, if 2012 and 2013 represent the trend in Jeter's aging career, his ability to stay healthy and on the field is going to become the focal point over the waning days of his storied time in New York.
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