Can Derek Jeter Silence His Critics Next Season?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIDecember 5, 2010

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees runs back to the dugout against the Texas Rangers in Game Four of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 19, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Rangers won 10-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Now that Derek Jeter is officially back where he belongs, we can look ahead to next season. Of course there is still a lot of decisions to be made, but Jeter is no longer one of them.

Last season, Jeter had the worst statistical season of his career. He hit just .270 with 10 homers and 67 RBI. His on base percentage was .340, 45 points lower than his career average of .385.

At 36, many baseball critics and fans say that Jeter is no longer capable of putting up the kind of numbers that have made him one of the greatest shortstops, not just in Yankee history, but in all of baseball.

For his career, Jeter is a .314 hitter. He averages 207 hits, 17 homers and 80 RBI.

During the course of his contract negotiations with the Yankees, everyone had a chance to weigh in. Most people felt that he deserved a contract fitting both his age and productivity; something in the range of $4 to $6 million per season.

Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com wrote, "Derek Jeter is going to be paid Ryan Howard money for putting up Marco Scutaro numbers."

Scutaro, 35, who played shortstop for the Boston Red Sox last season, hit .275 with an on base percentage of .333. He made just $5.5 million last season.

Jeter didn't quite get Howard money, but he's still going to be the highest paid middle infielder in baseball, making an average of $17 million per season.

After so many seasons of excellent numbers, it's hard to imagine Jeter is suddenly a sub-par offensive player. A player of his caliber doesn't suddenly forget how to hit.

It shouldn't surprise anyone if Jeter goes out and has another "Jeter season"—hit .300, get 200 hits, drive in 75 to 80 runs. In doing so, Jeter would serve a big slice of humble pie to everyone who doubted him.

Jeter was the Yankees leadoff hitter last season, and despite his struggles, manager Joe Girardi never dropped him in the lineup.

Doing so might have spared Jeter some suffering, but it wouldn't have helped him any.

The Yankees still led all of baseball in runs scored (859) and on base percentage (.350). They were eighth in batting average (.267).

What many called a down season, was really only a down season by Jeter standards. He led all shortstops in hits (207) and runs scored (111). His on base percentage was still good enough for sixth place.

As a leadoff hitter, teams look for runs scored and on base percentage, and Jeter certainly gave the Yankees enough.

His defense was another thing however. He won an undeserved Gold Glove by posting a fielding percentage of .989—the best in baseball—but ranked just 16th in total chances (553), so take it with a grain of salt.

At some point in the near future, Jeter will have to consider the possibility of a position change. No shortstop in the history of baseball has been able to play their entire career at the position.

Even the indestructible Cal Ripken Jr. had to move over to third base toward the end of his career.

Such a move would work well for the Yankees, who could then move Alex Rodriguez to full-time DH and add a younger, more athletic shortstop.

For now though, Jeter is a shortstop.

It surprised me how many people, especially Yankees fans, came out against Jeter. I mean, this is Jeter, the face of the franchise for the last 15 years. How could anyone turn against him so suddenly?

But they did. And now that he's going to be a Yankee for the rest of his career, some of those Yankees fans might have some explaining to do come next season.

If he weren't the highest paid at his position, no one would really say much about his stats; he would just be another so-so shortstop. But he's Jeter.

The team with the highest payroll in baseball pays him the most money, so it's as if he's required the be the best of all, and that's unfair.

Make no mistake, Jeter can certainly have a bounce back season and put up solid numbers. In doing so, he will not only prove his worth to the Yankees, but to the fans who doubted him.