Jeter, who played just 17 games last season because of a variety of leg issues, is on track to be at full strength by Opening Day 2014. At least, that's what he's been telling everybody.
That being said, general manager Brian Cashman has made moves this offseason that necessitate some lineup shuffling. Losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners has prompted some creativity in the middle of the order—especially if Alex Rodriguez is suspended—but the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury to hit in the top-third of the lineup will also force some changes.
Ellsbury has hit primarily first during the entirety of his major league career, though he's also seen some games hitting nearly everywhere else in the lineup.
He's only received 78 at-bats hitting second during his career—the spot Jeter is famous for occupying—but manager Joe Girardi would be wise to place his new center fielder in that spot in the order.
His career line in that spot in the order is quite impressive, and the on-base percentage he'll provide hitting in front of guys like Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran (in no particular order) will result in a ton of RBI opportunities.
|Jacoby Ellsbury Batting 2nd|
|Games/At-Bats||Slash Line||Home Runs||RBI||Steals|
Presumably, this would bump Jeter up to No. 1 in the order, right?
Well, Brett Gardner, should he be with the team in spring training, deserves the shot to bat first. His speed obviously plays a part in the decision, but the biggest factor should be the striking difference between his splits hitting first and hitting ninth.
Simply put, Gardner is a liability at the bottom of the order.
|Brett Gardner Batting 1st/9th|
|Spot in Order||Slash Line||Home Runs||RBI||Steals|
|1st (948 AB)||.265/.343/.388||13||87||71|
|9th (542 AB)||.232/.320/.310||3||50||36|
Putting Gardner at the top of the lineup in front of Ellsbury would be great for the entire team. Gardner will probably get some good pitches to hit in front of Ellsbury, and Gardner's deceptive pop could bring him near the double-digit home run mark this season.
Imagine situations where both Gardner and Ellsbury get on to lead off an inning. Double steals could become an instrumental part of the repertoire for Girardi, and doubles in the gap by the No. 3 or 4 hitter will easily result in two runs scored.
Jeter still has some speed to burn, but this recent string of leg injuries has likely slowed him down just a bit. Jeter is the perfect candidate to hit seventh at this point in his career—for more reasons than one.
For starters, Jeter would provide great stability to the lineup at No. 7. Assuming he at least comes close to his 2012 form, Jeter can provide top-of-the-lineup production in the bottom-third of the order. Not many teams can say they have the luxury of placing a .290-plus hitter so low in their lineup.
Jeter's OBP will also play well at the bottom. Assuming Rodriguez is suspended, Nos. 8 and 9 in the lineup will likely be filled by second baseman Brian Roberts and third baseman Kelly Johnson.
Johnson has 15-homer pop, and Roberts was known for pumping out almost 40 doubles per season from 2004 to 2009. Sure, he's not that guy anymore, but we all know that Roberts is capable of spraying the ball from gap to gap.
Creating opportunities for those guys at the bottom of the lineup will make the Yankees lineup much deeper than it would be if Gardner were hitting ninth. In that scenario, Roberts and Johnson would then be hitting Nos. 7 and 8.
It remains to be seen if Jeter would be on board with such a switch, but he may have to swallow his pride and do what's best for the Yankees at this point in his career. The Captain has always been the ultimate team player, and that should mean he'll realize the possibilities of him hitting lower in the lineup.
Having two potential 40-steal candidates at the top of the order is hard to argue with, and I'm sure his teammates hitting third through sixth will appreciate the move if it happens.
*Quote acquired from December 9th dinner/Q&A session.