Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let the debate rage: Jeter to CF

For any of you reading here longer than a week surely knows, I have been openly discussing the next move of Derek Sanderson Jeter. His contract is up after next year. He will be 37 years old. He will likely be less than 100 hits from 3,000. He will no longer be even a mediocre defensive shortstop; he will be something worse. But no matter what he is as a player after the 2010 season, he still will be Cap'n Jetes, survivor from the Dynasty days, our Captain Clutch, #2. And moving on from that could be as painful and bitter an exercise as we'll see, unless he initiates something.

Christina Kahrl from BP (via ESPN, Insider Access required) had an article which sounds awfully like some of the things I have been saying here for quite some time:

Obviously, getting Jeter's buy-in is a real-world problem for a team with a real-world need for a center fielder, because the margins are too thin in the tough AL East for the Yankees to really rely on the wrong Cabrera in the lineup. Crying over last year's spilled Melky won't help them catch up to the Rays and Red Sox, but signing Orlando Cabrera would provide the team with a useful-enough hitter, and a slick-fielding asset at short could make a small but important difference to a bad defensive ballclub. Last season's Yankees ranked 25th in the major leagues in defensive efficiency (their ability to convert balls in play into outs) and park-adjusted defensive efficiency, and no positions see more chances than the middle infield. For all his defensive warts, Jeter has a strong arm and has always earned praise for his ability to track bloopers and pop-ups. These skills should both translate in center field. And simply by providing his usual dose of high OBP, he'd be a much better option than running Melky Cabrera out to center for 117 games, which the Yankees did last year.

Swapping Jeter out at short to address the team's need for a center fielder would be the sort of win-win move that can let the Yankees return to the top of the standings while breaking in their new stadium, and it does nothing to damage the Captain's place in franchise history. If Yount or Ripken, MVP winners and top stars in their day, could agree to help their teams and themselves to make these switches, you need to ask yourself why Jeter should be any different, especially when the need has gone from debatable to obvious.
The only way this happens is that it has to at least appear that Jeter is the catalyst for this move, not Cashman or (heaven forbid) Hank/Hal. And even then, at this late date, could you find a buyer for Melky? Or do you just grab Orlando Cabrera and move Jeter to CF and later worry about Melky? What if Jeter fails miserably in CF? Do you jerk his chain under the brightest of lights, risking embarrassing your cornerstone? This has to come from Jeter, or it has to at least be told that way, if it's ever going to happen.

No, this can't happen this year. And it might not happen next year. We might come back after the 2010 season and settle in for another Varitek-like showdown, pitting the legendary Captain of a legendary team against its ownership and fans. And we saw with Varitek that the fans sided with management this season; will the Yanks fans still side with Jeter if his decline lasts two more years and he wants in-the-prime money to remain at SS?

Jeter's seemingly had a fairly solid grasp of his position in the game, with the organization. Totally self-aware of everything about him and the game. Honestly, the one thing that no one seems to want to even consider is that after 2010, Jeter realizes that he's no longer playing to the level in which he's accustomed and simply decides to walk away, retire. Really, I see this as entirely more likely than him hanging on just to play. I just can't see that happening. Jeter won't let himself become baseball's version of Brett Favre. I think he retires before he allows others to discuss him as an impediment to the team's on-field performance.

I can see him calling a press conference right around Thanksgiving 2010 to tell the world he's hanging them up for good, that his wife (some uber super-model/actress/starlet) is expecting their first child and he's ready to move onto the next phase of his life rather than change positions or go and fight for a job. He'd take a few questions, say all the right things, smile that trademark smile with a wink, be ultra-polite with everyone, say thank you and be gone.

And that will be that. The era will end.

UPDATE (2/6/09, 10:25am): Joel Sherman of the NY Post has something about this (thanks to Tim at for the tip):
But know this - Yankee officials already talk privately about dreading D(erek)-Day.

After all, what team official wants to tell Jeter he has to take a pay cut or has to move positions or - gulp - just has to move on? How would you like that on your baseball epitaph: You were the Yankee executive who told Derek Jeter thanks for the memories?

Of course, the alternative is not too appetizing either. Because kowtowing to Jeter's legacy by paying him lavishly and keeping him at short means tying yourself to a late-30s icon well beyond his expiration date.


The Common Man said...

I was going to suggest you move ARod to first and Jeter to third, and then I remembered you signed Tex. You have too many good players. Give some back. :)

Jason @ IIATMS said...

TCM: That's the problem I was mentioning with prospects: you've got big money guys signed all over the diamond. What spots will be "open" over the next few years?

Catcher, all three OF, SS. That's it. 3B, 2B, 1B all blocked for years.

Maybe Cano gets dealt and Jeter slides to 2B? Again, any Jeter move must be initiated (or appear to be so) by Jeter.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

That's actually a lot of positions in flux. However, we can assume that Holliday will be a Yankee in 2010, so there goes one OF spot. Go ahead and add Ankiel for the other corner OF spot. That leaves CF, SS, and C. Having to only fill those positions is a luxury (though they are the most important positions on the field), not a problem, especially knowing those guys that are there are All-Stars. Prospects can always be dealt for what you need. Give me the proven guys.

Mark said...

Wow, Jason. Since when is it a problem to have your lineup positioned clogged with superstars? I think some perspective might be called for here.

Jason @ IIATMS said...


It's funny, that statement reads strange. Notice I didn't say "superstars", I said "big money guys". I think there is a difference. Most managers can't bench big contracts, or at least they try not to. Luis Castillo might test that theory this season, much like Andruw did last year.

The problem really lies in the length of these contracts. You're going to start dumping young cheap talent because they have no path to progession.

That's troubling.

lar said...

I think you make a good point that Jeter might be self-aware enough, and even classy enough, to retire if he doesn't think he'll be able to play up to "his level" after 2010.

But the guy's only 465 hits away from 3000. In two years, you can figure he'll get between 380 and 400 hits. and that would put him less than 100 hits from 3000. Do you think he'd consider retiring if that was the chance?

I suspect he's going to figure something out. Maybe he'll allow the change to center (it's almost definitely going to be seriously discussed in the media before then) and see how it works, kind of like Biggio and Chipper (two other "cornerstone" guys). But I'd imagine he'd reserve the right to move back into the infield if he didn't like it.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

Quick question: Why is moving Jeter to center a good idea? It might be easier than short, but if he's having range problems, won't they still exist in center? Center still requires fast reflexes (maybe not quite as fast but there's more ground to cover).

Jason @ IIATMS said...

I was waiting for this question, themarksmith. To me, it's pretty simple: Derek's lateral range/speed is declining and he can't get down to pick up hot shots. What Jeter IS still very good at is tracking pop-ups, going back and catching everything still in the air. He's got long legs that cover lots of ground, but those same legs cause problems on getting down on grounders. Being a 6'4" shortstop is fine when you're 25 but at 35, it becomes a hinderance.

There's also never been any issue with his arm strength.

Arm strength + ability to track balls hit in the air + long legs + good closing speed = potentially capable CF. POTENTIALLY.

e-5 said...

HIM remembers only a very few true GREATS leaving on their terms and their schedules (Joe D, Sandy, Jimmy Brown, Barry Sanders and only a few more). Whether their real motivation was medical, $, political or just personal lasting image it was accepted and understood, even if we were left wanting more. The real mark of how smart the Captain is will be if he does what is really best for him, not the team and not the fans. That could be sooner than the begining of the 2011 season as well. The number of his total hits only has to mean something to him, not the Hall or the writers or the fans. If he thinks he has achieved all he wanted to do he could and might just smile and walk, and we should thank him. HIM would be happy!