New York Yankees shortstop and captain Derek Jeter will miss the remainder of the season after being shut down by general manager Brian Cashman and Co., though it seems as if he plans on returning in 2014, as reported by Bryan Hoch of MLB.com.
Jeter will use the entire offseason to get strength back in his legs, presumably ensuring his health for at least the beginning of the 2014 season. Because he was so anxious to get back quickly in 2013, he gave himself little time to properly rehab and strengthen his lower body.
Losing his on-field leadership will be hard to swallow for a Yankees team in the thick of a playoff race, but, in actuality, his on-field production could be replaced by newcomer Brendan Ryan. This could also be the case in 2014, though it's best to take a look at this season before moving on to the next one.
Jeter didn't hit well at all in 17 games this season. He posted a line of .190/.288/.254 with one home run and seven RBI. Granted, he had issues planting on that troublesome left leg when active. His struggles have a valid excuse, but that doesn't mean he wasn't the hurting the Yankees offensively.
Defensively, he has been on the decline for the past several seasons. Per FanGraphs, he posted a UZR of -4.0 and a UZR/150 of -46.0 this season. That type of defense can be detrimental to a team in a playoff hunt.
Ryan, on the other hand, is a fantastic defensive shortstop. He has a UZR of 1.0 and a UZR/150 of 1.6, per FanGraphs. He was exceptional last season, posting marks of 13.8 and 16.0, respectively.
With the stick, Ryan's production in 2013 is similar to Jeter's, even if he's played in 71 more games. Ryan has a line of .189/.251/.261 with three home runs and 22 RBI. Never one to beat teams at the plate, his best season came in 2009 when he hit .292. Since then, his highest batting average was .248 in 2011.
Ryan, a free agent come season's end, will be sought after by many teams because of his defensive value and versatility in the infield, since he can also play second and a little bit of third base. The Yankees should attempt to re-sign him but not in a bench role—he should be the starting shortstop in 2014.
Allow me to explain myself before you go off in the comments section (which is fine, if you're still compelled to).
Jeter is no longer the defensive player he once was. He really never was a great one, anyway. He'll be 40 in June of next year and may not have much time left before calling it quits. He has an $8 million player option for next season, and there's a good chance that he won't seek another contract afterward.
In an effort to keep him healthy over what could be his last season, manager Joe Girardi (assuming he's retained as manager) could look to slot him as the designated hitter a majority of the time. Alex Rodriguez's impending suspension aids that decision, as the DH spot won't be locked down with the aging third baseman.
Ryan, who offers little at the plate, more than makes up for his deficiencies on offense with his glove work. He may save more runs than he drives in, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with having a defensive-minded guy at the bottom of the lineup.
There are multiple benefits to doing this aside from keeping Jeter healthy.
For one, Eduardo Nunez can learn a lot from watching Ryan's play at short. He's presumably the future of the position for the Yankees, and it doesn't take a hardcore fan to see that Nunez is a liability in the field at this point in his young career. Learning footwork and timing techniques in the field could help his game.
Plus, it would give the Yankees a stellar defensive shortstop to pair with Robinson Cano, if he's re-signed. There's uncertainty regarding his situation, but a middle infield of Ryan and Cano on defense could rank toward the top in the league. Both have great range and above-average arms, and watching the two turn double plays would be a privilege for Yankees fans.
Jeter has a place on the 2014 Yankees—and likely 2015, should he choose to continue playing—but that position shouldn't be at shortstop. There comes a time in nearly every great player's career when a position change is in order, and next season could be just that time for him.
Quite frankly, Ryan is a better alternative to shore up the Yankees defense. If Ryan really falters at the plate, then Jeter or even Nunez could take over—or a platoon could be in order. But starting the season with Ryan at short and Jeter at DH would be best for both the Yankees', and their captain's, 2014 season.
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