If the New York Yankees are ever going to consider moving Derek Jeter from shortstop, the time seems ripe for the Yankees to float the idea given the events that have transpired over the past year and New York's rebuilding this winter.
The Yankees finally learned that Alex Rodriguez's suspension will be upheld for the entire 2014 season, reported here by MLB.com's Paul Hagen. The Bombers also won the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes last week, first reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Already this winter the Yankees lost second baseman Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, leaving a gaping hole in the middle on the Yankees infield. New York has since tried to fill the holes with Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson. Given the injury history of Roberts over the past four seasons, the offensive drop is expected to be significant.
Making things more critical, Jeter missed all but 17 games during the 2013 campaign, initially due to a broken ankle suffered during the 2012 playoffs. Jeter had complications with the ankle coming back in 2013 and also suffered a calf injury during the season. Coming back after missing almost an entire season at the age of 39, it is hard to believe that Jeter's range will have improved.
More than ever, the Yankees need Jeter's on-field leadership and his solid bat in the lineup. But the elephant in the room must be addressed. Jeter was considered the worst defensive shortstop in 2012 coming in with a UZR/150 of minus-15.2. That can't be overlooked and is unlikely to improve in 2014.
If you really want to improve the Yankees defense for the 2014 season, move Jeter to third base. After that, look at acquiring a solid shortstop like Stephen Drew and the infield defense is markedly improved already. Drew had a UZR/150 of 6.7 last season while playing for the Boston Red Sox.
Drew is still sitting out in free agency with limited options. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News doesn't think the Yankees will sign Drew, but since New York has made the decision to blow past the luxury tax threshold already, signing Drew should be an easy decision. It would help New York and hurt Boston, an added benefit.
With the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, New York would only be sacrificing a lower-round draft pick as compensation at this point. After spending over $470 million this winter on free agents, getting frugal now doesn't make much sense.
The injuries and the time away from the team might have made Jeter more receptive to the idea of moving to third base, partially with the thought of extending his career.
This would be an opportunity to extend his career and continue to climb the all-time hits leaderboard while giving himself another chance at the playoffs. In a year where Jeter is going to turn 40 in June, he might see this as a chance to extend his career by a season or two.
A healthy Jeter is better than any third baseman available to the Yankees on the free-agent market right now. Moving Jeter to third might be the best thing for the Yankees, and also for Jeter returning from such an injury-plagued season so late in his career.
Mariano Rivera aged gracefully with the Yankees, retiring at the age of 43. Is it possible that Jeter views himself as someone who might try to play for another three or four years as well? He might, especially since missing most of the 2013 season should have saved some of the wear and tear on his body.
Before anyone says that Jeter shouldn't move to third, realize that he wasn't just bad defensively in 2012, it was one of his worst seasons in the field. If Jeter won't move simply because he's Jeter, maybe he should look at what is best for the Yankees. It might also turn out to be what's best for him in the long run.
Jeter is a Yankee icon, a player who should easily be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee when he retires. But Jeter is closing in on 20 seasons with the Yankees and it might be time to make a few concessions to his ability and age.
Moving to third would help New York in the short-term and further cement Jeter's reputation as a team-first captain. It would be a win-win for everyone.
Statistical information used from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.