Yankees announcer Michael Kay, speaking on ESPN 1050 yesterday, said what is on every New York baseball fan’s mind. Not “Will the Yankees win the pennant?” — with a favorable schedule and the return of Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte imminent, the odds are in their favor. Not “Will C.C. Sabathia win the Cy Young Award?” — after his eight-inning, one-hitter against Oakland for his 19th win, the Cy Young is C.C’s to lose.
The all-important question, of course, is “What’s going to happen to Derek Jeter?”
Here’s Kay: “I’ve been saying for the past two years the decision the Yankees have to make on Derek Jeter will be the toughest decision any New York franchise will ever have to make.”
Actually, I don’t think the decision — at least if Kay means what to do about Jeter’s contract — is going to be all that tough. Jeter has simplified the matter by having the poorest season (at least at the plate) of his career, and even a strong postseason flourish isn’t likely to change the Yankees’ impression of how much he has slipped. Jeter must certainly understand that as a free agent he has practically no muscle outside New York — he will be 37 years old next year, and no team has ever won anything with a 37 year old shortstop.
I’m going to predict that the Yankees will offer him something nice, though not as good as he is getting right now, and offer it for two years with an option for the third. That will take care of keeping him in New York, but it won’t take care of the really big problem, which is the one no one is talking about: Where are the Yankees going to play Jeter?
Last year I suggested, to much derision, that the Yankees think about moving Robbie Cano to the outfield and putting Jeter at an easier, less demanding position, second base. Well, OK, I didn’t know that Derek was going to hit .334, and I was wrong about Cano, who has blossomed into a full-fledged all-around star this year.
So: Since first base, second base and third base are out and Nick Swisher has a lock on right field and it’s unlikely that Jeter, at his age, is going to make a jump directly from shortstop to center field, that leaves two possibilities — left field and DH.
Left field means that the Yankees would have to give up on either Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner as an everyday player. Gardner, the younger man, would presumably become the center fielder. But if that turns out to be the case, it cuts down on the Yankees power (unless Granderson becomes the regular DH, at least against right-handed pitching since he still can’t hit lefties.)
But this presumes two things: first, that Derek can make the jump to the outfield, even the relatively easy spot in left, and that, too, he hits well enough to justify taking up the space. That, of course, is also the situation if Jeter becomes the DH — but honestly, can you see a player with Derek Jeter’s pride taking himself off the field and become a designated hitter? I can’t.
So, common sense indicates that the Yankees and Derek Jeter have just two options: struggle through another season with a deteriorating Jeter at shortstop, or try to accommodate him in left field. Neither option strikes me as a good one — but it’s what we’re going to be looking at as soon as this year’s World Series is wrapped.