How Derek Jeter's Injury Uncertainty Will Impact Yankees' Offseason Plans
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The latest setback for Derek Jeter—Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported that Jeter was done for the season due to soreness in his surgically-repaired ankle—is just a reminder that the Yankees not only have a very busy offseason ahead of them, but one filled with uncertainty.
Will Robinson Cano re-sign? Will Alex Rodriguez's suspension be upheld? Can CC Sabathia rebound, or is he no longer the frontline starting pitcher he's paid to be? Is David Robertson capable of stepping into the closer's role with Mariano Rivera retiring?
Now consider that they'll also need to bring in at least two new starting pitchers—Phil Hughes, Hideki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are eligible for free agency—and they could also use another outfielder, an upgrade at catcher and some bullpen help.
Finding a replacement for Jeter, a future Hall of Famer and Yankees legend, was probably something general manager Brian Cashman was hoping to keep off of his plate for another year.
While the 39-year-old's status was already up in the air due to his contract ($8 million player option for 2014; $3 million buyout) and the possibility that he'll opt for retirement instead of returning for a 20th season, the fact that he's only played in 17 games this season because of multiple injuries—recovery from ankle surgery, strained calf, strained quad and ankle soreness—makes it a foregone conclusion that Cashman will have to conduct business this winter with the expectation that Jeter will not return.
Jeter does not believe his career is over, however, and as Peter Gammons recently pointed out on Twitter, the 13-time All-Star could not condition his entire body last offseason because he was recovering from ankle surgery. Barring any major setbacks, Jeter will have several months to work himself back into playing shape for 2014.
Let's assume that Jeter either exercises his 2014 player option or takes the $3 million buyout and works out an incentive-laden deal to remain with the Yankees. Now let's assume that you still won't be able to pencil him onto the projected 25-man roster given the question marks surrounding his ability to stay healthy.
Now take an early look at the team's 25-man roster projection without Jeter or Rodriguez in the mix...
Projected Starting Lineup
1 Brett Gardner, CF
2 Ichiro Suzuki, RF
3 Mark Teixeira, 1B
4 Alfonso Soriano, LF
5 Vernon Wells, DH
6 Eduardo Nuñez, SS
7 David Adams, 2B
8 Jayson Nix, 3B
9 Chris Stewart, C
Austin Romine, C
Corban Joseph, IF
Ronnier Mustelier, IF/OF
Zoilo Almonte, OF
Projected Starting Rotation
1 CC Sabathia, LHP
2 Ivan Nova, RHP
3 Michael Pineda, RHP
4 David Huff, LHP
5 David Phelps, RHP
CL David Robertson, RHP
SU Shawn Kelley, RHP
SU Mark Montgomery, RHP
MID Matt Daley, RHP
MID Cesar Cabral, LHP
MID Preston Claiborne, RHP
LR Adam Warren, RHP
*Former top pitching prospect Manny Bañuelos should be back early in 2014, if not right out of the gate. After missing all of this season, the Yankees will likely ease him back into action with a stint in the upper minors. The 22-year-old lefty made six Triple-A starts in 2012 before being shut down with an elbow injury.
While the uncertainty surrounding Jeter certainly makes finding a shortstop more of a priority for the Yankees, I can't say it jumps ahead of anything else on the list. The fact that there's even a slight chance that he returns as a healthy and productive player makes it far less urgent than the others.
The best option for the Yankees could be to quickly re-sign the recently acquired Brendan Ryan (pictured), one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, to a one-year deal in the $2 million range—he provides almost no offense, so he won't be costly—and focus their energy on filling the gaping holes throughout the rest of the roster.
Adding a one-year stop-gap such as Ryan, or even Clint Barmes or Rafael Furcal, a pair of free agent-to-be veterans who also shouldn't cost more than $1-2 million, will allow the team to push the search for Jeter's long-term replacement to next offseason, when there will be more options available in free agency—Hanley Ramirez and Jed Lowrie are expected to be the top players available at the position—and quite possibly fewer holes to fill elsewhere.
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