With just under two weeks remaining before the Yankees break camp for the start of the regular season, one of the lesser discussed issues has to be weighing heavy on the mind of manager Joe Girardi: where will he bat team captain Derek Jeter in the 2014 lineup? One would think given the almost 20-year track record of Jeter, the answer would be simple and obvious. Think again!
The Yankees this past offseason made several moves to improve a lineup that was ravaged by injuries and poor play in 2013. One of the primary moves was signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury away from the rival Boston Red Sox. Early on in spring training, the Yankees broke team custom and signed outfielder Brett Gardner to an extension, guaranteeing that a combo of Ellsbury and Gardner will be patrolling the Yankee Stadium outfield for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox used the exact same blueprint to run their way to a league-leading 843 runs scored in 2013, en route to another World Series championship. How tempting must it be for Girardi to hit Ellsbury and Gardner 1-2, and make the rest of baseball fear the duo?
There are a couple of factors making this decision tougher than it has to be. The first, is that Jeter has been the Yankees’ number two hitter in the lineup for a majority of his career, to the tune of over 3,000 hits. The other factor is that Jeter isn’t having a great spring training, hitting well under .200 in what will be his final season in pinstripes. Girardi has to balance a respect and love for his Captain along with attempting to put the most dangerous and efficient lineup on the field. Should anyone be worried about Jeter’s slow start at the plate? Is it a sign of things to come?
It’s difficult for Girardi to even begin tinkering and experimenting with what might be his opening lineup in Houston when Ellsbury has been sidelined with a minor calf pull, Jeter remains in his customary #2 slot in the lineup, and Gardner is tearing the cover off the baseball this spring. When Ellsbury returns to the lineup later this week, does Girardi dare attempt to drop Jeter in the lineup? Does he keep Gardner in the nine hole, Ellsbury leading off and Jeter hitting behind him? The Yankees would be limiting the damage that an Ellsbury-Gardner duo could perform if Gardner is left sitting in the bottom third of the order. It’ll be a no-brainer in 2015, but we are talking about the here and now. This is one time, it’s good not to be Joe Girardi…