It’s been a fun ride, the last decade and a half, getting to watch Derek Jeter play baseball. Undeniably one of the all-time greats, he transformed the position of shortstop and gave us countless “once-in-a-lifetime plays”: The Flip, the Dive-Into-The-Stands, and of course, the old reliable, The Leaping-Throw-To-First. We’ve been very lucky to watch him, and even luckier to have him as a member of our team. But it’s time to face the facts that that time may be coming to an end, much sooner than later.
Aug 30, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (2) during warmups before a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jeter has been declared dead in baseball terms approximately every year for the last few years; in 2010, when he hit below .291 for the first time outside his rookie season; in 2011 when he looked dead at the plate and got a boost of magic after his fairy tale 3,000th hit; and in 2012, when he hit an absurd .316 at 38 years old. And then it all fell apart last October, when a freak play resulted in a broken ankle.
It’s now been almost 130 games missed later, 11 months, and that balky ankle is still causing problems- so much so that Joe Girardi opted to remove his shortstop from this weekend’s critical series against the Red Sox and send him for a CT scan. To put that in perspective, take a look at two players from a much more physical sport who had massive ligament damage and returned to action after less than one year: Adrian Peterson and Darelle Revis. Both those boys looked pretty good this past Sunday, and Peterson won the MVP in the NFL last season. Jeter still can barely move on that ankle, and it shows.
So, with the Yankees in hot pursuit of a second Wild Card berth and the season dwindling, the question remains: where do we go from here?
Do the Yankees shut him down? Do they rest him a few days, and put a clearly compromised player out there? Should they use him at all? The options aren’t great, but Jeter is only hitting .190 and can barely move- wouldn’t it hurt the team to put him out there again and again? What do the Yankees do?
While you’re taking a minute to think about that, I’m just going take this opportunity to remind you: the Yankees still have one more year with Jeter, assuming that he exercises his player option, which kicks in this winter. Not a given, but everything we have ever read, seen, or heard about Derek Jeter stands to reason that this injury-plagued season will not be his last rodeo in pinstripes.
All of which sort of makes you wish that the Yankees had listened (for once, for the love of everything, just once!) to GM Brian Cashman a few winters ago when he offered that Jeter and his camp- and probably Yankees fans, too- take a sip of reality potion when discussing the length of a contract for the superstar shortstop. Granted, a freak ankle break isn’t necessarily the way the GM saw the last few years of the contract going down. But the aftermath may be exactly what he was envisioning. Older players take longer to heal. Period. A groin pull, a strained calf, or yes, a broken ankle- take longer. You cannot fight Father Time.
And at 39 years old, pulling in a significant amount of money, and taking up a roster space on a team full of more duct tape and bubble gum holding everything together than a boating-themed “I Love Lucy” episode, the Yankees are getting to the point of this just not working out anymore. Consider it the “slow fade” of sports relationships… it just is time to move on.
Except the Yankees have one more year with Jeter and need to figure out what to do in the meantime. That will probably be decided as the Yankees go in the next few weeks: if they are in the thick of it, expect lots of time off, but a presence of the Captain on the field. If they are out of it, expect a shut down, and a look towards next year. The decision on what to do with Jeter largely depends on the production of the team in the next week to 10 days, but in the interim, the question still remains: where do we go from here?