Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees: Is the Captain Done?

Rich StoweAnalyst IIIMay 3, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees throws to first base in the fourth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 25, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

A colleague of mine, Matt Strobl, recently asked me the following questions when we were having a discussion about Derek Jeter in response to my latest article about the Yankees

He asked three questions, "What happens if he doesn't start hitting, and it goes into next year—at what point does he become a liability even though he's Derek Jeter, Yankee Captain, and with his big contract, would they force him into retirement?"

Those are three very interesting questions, and as a Yankees fan, have me very concerned.  After all, sports in general are full of stories of players that hung around long after they should have retired (Willie Mays to the Mets, Johnny Unitas to the Chargers and Michael Jordan to the Wizards to name three) and knowing the competitor that Jeter is, I'm sure he won't be the one to call it quits.

First, let me make it known that I'm a huge Yankees fan and believe Jeter is (or rather was) one of the best players in the game, no matter what his detractors or defensive stats say.  Also, after the 2010 season, I believed Jeter had at least three seasons left in him, and the Yankees fan part of me hoped that they would be better than 2010, but the realist in me was thinking that 2010 was probably going to be the norm.  Just like every other Yankees fan, I'm surprised at just how bad 2011 has been for Jeter so far.

Let's tackle each question Matt asked individually. 

The crux to the answer of his first question is this: Is Derek Jeter done being an effective hitter or is it just a slump?  Well, if you discount Jeter's numbers in September 2010, he hasn't hit well since 2009.  Also, he is arguably one of the worst offensive players in baseball in 2011; he only has two extra-base hits, and those were ground ball doubles. 

So, looking at that, I don't think his 2011 is just a cold start or a slump.  To me, it's the continuation of his 2010 season; which was only his worst offensive season of his career.  Why did I discount September 2010?  Well, that was when he spent more time working with Kevin Long and basically made his 2010 respectable offensively.

The Yankees went into spring training in 2011 with the idea that Long and Jeter would continue to work together and fix the key thing that was broken with Jeter's swing—the fact that he lost almost all his bat speed.  It was going to be a big adjustment for Jeter; you don't just change something that's worked for almost 3,000 hits overnight. 

However, Jeter gave up on it three games into the regular season.  Kevin Long has basically resurrected Curtis Granderson's career and helped Nick Swisher have the best season of his career in 2010. 

My fear is that Jeter is finally letting his pride control his game.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure his pride is behind much of what was great about Derek Jeter, it's just that now it's become a liability instead of a positive force.

In my opinion, if Jeter doesn't turn it around quickly, the Yankees and Joe Girardi will have no choice but to drop him to the bottom of the order and even consider giving him more days off to see if they have a replacement for him sooner than they thought they would need.

That leads me to Matt's second question: "At what point does he become a liability even though he's Derek Jeter, Yankees Captain?"  It's my belief that Jeter is a liability now, but the Yankees are able to overcome it.  However, once they stop hitting as many home runs and will have to rely more on the top of the order getting on base, that's when Jeter's "slump" will affect the team the most. 

Is there a more rapid decline to a player's career that wasn't tied to PEDs?  I can't think of any.  He went from MVP candidate in 2009 to an average/below average hitter in 2010 to the worst hitter in the league in 2011. 

If Jeter was Ozzie Smith on defense, you could at least deal with it.  He's not and has never been (no matter what you may think the Gold Glove Awards mean), so couple the lack of defense with a lack of offense and you end up with a player that is only hurting your team.

So, that brings us to Matt's final question: "Would the Yankees force him into retirement?"  This is the toughest question to answer.  The Yankees have him signed through 2014, with an option for 2015 for a lot of money, and seeing how this is baseball, all of that is guaranteed. 

We've already seen the Yankees and their fans use "loyalty" as a reason to resign him and to keep him at the top of order, even though the questions regarding his decline were there.  However, if he continues to slide offensively and is the liability I believe he just might be, they might have to do the drastic thing and ask him to retire quietly.

All players want to go out on their own terms, but that doesn't always happen.  Jerry Rice wanted to continue playing but the ability just wasn't there anymore, and he came to the harsh realization that he was done.  Unfortunately, instead of Rice retiring with his entire career spent in San Francisco, we have the memory of him in Oakland and Denver. 

As a Yankees fan and Derek Jeter fan, the thought of him in another uniform simply because he still thinks he can play would be one of the saddest things to see.  If the time comes when he is truly done, the Yankees should offer him a front-office job, retire his number, put his monument in Monument Park and ask him to simply go quietly like another Yankees Captain and all-time great Lou Gehrig did when he realized he was no longer able to help the Yankees win.

Do I think Jeter is done?  Not yet, though I think that time is much closer than any Yankees fan or the Yankees themselves realized after the end of the 2010 season.  If Jeter ignores his pride, works with Kevin Long again and accepts whatever spot the Yankees have him hit or role they ask him to play, he may just fend off the end for a while. 

If he doesn't? 

The Yankees need to start looking for the next Yankees Captain.