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The Big, Bad Yankee Problem No One's Talking About Yet

Rebecca GlassCorrespondent IApril 27, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 22:  Derek Jeter #2 of The New York Yankees in action against The Oakland Athletics during their game on April 22, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx Borough of New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

This weekend's sweep in Boston left many of the New York Yankees' immediate weaknesses exposed:

* A beat-up bullpen

* A phantom in center field

* A big, bad black hole of doom at the bottom of the lineup

* Starting pitching that didn't so much pitch as throw the ball somewhere in the vicinity of home plate and pray

Yet these problems aren't necessarily all that bad.

When Alex Rodriguez returns, he should take care of the black hole of doom.

If general manager Brian Cashman was so inclined, he could probably trade for Mike Cameron for a reasonable price and to upgrade over Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner in center field.

The bullpen's a mess because Brian Bruney's hurt, though the injury should be relatively minor. Mark Melancon certainly impressed last night. When the starters start giving more innings, the 'pen will be in much better shape.

There's no reason the starting pitching can't get its act together, either.

Power pitchers—and the Yanks have three in their rotation—can take a while to heat up. We all know how CC Sabathia struggled last April.

These problems  frustrate, but they're not the end of the world.

However, the Yankees have a much bigger issue coming down the pike.

Derek Jeter's contract is up at the end of next season.

This is bad news already. Jeter's power declined enough last season that many fans considered him a GIDP machine, and they weren't the only ones.

This season Jeter has lead off to avoid the double plays, except when manager Joe Girardi has opted to play both Gardner and Cabrera,

Jeter is showing more power early this season than he did last season, but there is no guarantee that it will last.

What's more, no team has ever won a World Series with a starting shortstop age 35 or older.

Then, of course, there's Jeter's defense, which Andrew Fletcher of Scott Proctor's Arm has generously described as "past a diving Jeter."

Now, imagine for a moment that the Yankees are not sentimental, that they are thinking long-term and elect to re-sign Jeter for only a year or not at all.

Guess what wonderful task the Yankees then face?

Replacing Derek Jeter.

Now, I should be very clear about this: There is no replacing Derek Jeter.

Jeter's the guy whose name you utter when you are talking Yankee greats: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Mattingly, Jeter.

They may—I repeat MAY—one day replace his production, and they can certainly replace his defense, but in terms of other intangibles, it's not possible.

So in that regard, the Yankees would be foolish if they were trying to find someone that can replace Jeter as captain.

They still, however, need to replace Jeter as shortstop, and right now the options aren't too appealing.

Let's start with the prospects in the organization. Straight from the Baseball America 2009 Prospect Handbook:

Carmen Angelini? He's No. 1 on the depth chart. Good, right? Well, he's playing for Single A Charleston right now and has made an error in all but three games this season. It's gone from amusing, to worrying, to worrying and vaguely amusing. Angelini's still only 20, but even Jesus Montero was not this much of a defensive ornamental fountain last year.

Garrison Lassiter? He's No. 2, and in rookie ball. He's putting together a nice batting average, but I repeat: He's in rookie ball.

Eduardo Nuñez is at AA and is hitting .258. The season's still young, and anything can happen—kid is still young—but someone hitting .258 at AA does not a Derek Jeter replacement portend.

Fourth on the depth chart is the guy currently wasting away on the Yankee bench, Ramiro Peña. Peña's certainly got the glove for the position, but unless he starts playing every day, his bat won't get the chance to develop like it should. For the moment, he's the most likable of all the guys listed here.

Granted, it's still early, and the young guys have a lot of developing left to do, but if you're the Yankees management, which of these kids do you like?

The Yankees could decide to use some of their overstocked pitching talent to pursue a trade, but any other GM worth his (or her) salt will probably up the price considerably.

The Yankees could sign a free agent. The 2011 list is here. It's not a very promising. Most teams will do anything to keep their worthwhile shortstops since it's such a thin position. José Reyes is probably the best option on the list, and he's a franchise player for the Mets.

The Yankees could—and probably will—re-sign Jeter, though that might be their worst option. If his glove won't play at shortstop, the only other realistic option is DH—which his bat can't really carry in the American League, especially if the other option is—and it probably will be—Jorge Posada.

For 2009 at least, Jeter remains the Yankee shortstop and captain, but while possible heirs to Mariano Rivera (Mark Melancon), Jorge Posada (Jesus Montero/Austin Romine), and Andy Pettitte (Joba Chamberlain/Phil Hughes/take your pick) are at least beginning to emerge from the shadows, Jeter's successor situation is much murkier.

If the Yankees do not already have a plan in place for November 2010, they need to figure one out.

The sooner, the better.

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