With Alex Rodriguez suspended for all of 2014, the New York Yankees have a gaping hole at third base. There are in-house options for the Yankees to man the hot corner. Without any more infield acquisitions, it seems as if it will be Kelly Johnson’s job to lose come spring training. The other options currently on the roster include, Eduardo Nunez and recently acquired Scott Sizemore. Brendan Ryan will likely be Derek Jeter’s backup at shortstop, as well as provide insurance to the oft-injured Brian Roberts at second. Everyone knows what Nunez is capable of offensively, but he is a flat out liability at third and short. Sizemore is a guy that has about a season’s worth of at-bats scattered between three big league campaigns. Ryan is a nice player, but is best served as a backup middle infielder.
This uninspiring group begs the question, is the best third baseman on the roster the soon-to-be 40-year old shortstop? Let’s leave the biggest issue of all –will Jeter willingly move to third- alone for a little bit. Moving the Captain to third base might be the best option for the Bombers on multiple fronts. At 40, it’s imperative the Yanks keep Jeter as fresh as possible. He will spend plenty of time as the team’s DH. The wear-and-tear on his knees and surgically repaired ankle will be far less playing third than it would be as an everyday shortstop. His range has deteriorated over the past several seasons. A younger platoon of Ryan, Sizemore, and Nunez may be the better option at shortstop. Nunez is going to be a concern defensively wherever he plays. That being said, he’s going to play. His ability to drive the ball to the gaps, as well as steal bases will get him in the lineup. Beyond that, Joe Girardi will have options behind him as defensive replacements. What a potential Jeter move would mean for Kelly Johnson is unclear. He could play third when Jeter DHs or needs a day off. It’s a safe assumption that Brian Roberts will not be healthy all year. Johnson could also spell Mark Teixeira at first base. That opens up plenty of games for KJ to be a super-utility type.
The biggest obstacle involved here may be Jeter’s willingness (or lack of), to step away from a position he has occupied for almost twenty years. Derek has been one of the top shortstops, both offensively and defensively since his debut. Would a move from shortstop to third base mean Jeter has to swallow some pride? Yes. There is no doubt Derek Jeter is (and rightfully so) a proud ballplayer. This is not an issue of pride. It’s a matter of doing what is best for the team. As a man who has spent nearly two decades as a team-first, selfless player he has to be open to helping this team in whatever capacity is asked of him. Jeter would not the first perennial All-Star to make a move from shortstop. The list is packed with big names. Nomar Garciaparra, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., Ernie Banks, and of course, Alex Rodriguez all made the switch, with Ripken and A-Rod the only ones to have multiple All-Star game selections after moving from short to third.
Moving the Yankee Captain to third base is a move that has a lot of variables. It may be an awkward situation. But it’s one that should at least be explored before the 2014 season gets under way.