Derek Jeter will be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He’s got 3,316 hits (and counting), a .312 career batting average, 14 All-Star selections and five World Series rings (he was also robbed of the 2006 MVP Award, but that’s a different argument). He is the face of the New York Yankees, an all-time great, and is one of the most respected players in baseball.
This is why it was difficult seeing injuries limit him to playing in only 17 games in 2013. Replacing him was even more of a headache. Utility-man Jayson Nix broke his wrist and though Eduardo Nunez had filled in admirably during Jeter’s previous DL stints, costly errors during crucial games late in the year left the Yankees with no other choice but to acquire the slick-fielding Brendan Ryan.
A phenomenal defender, Ryan was a great addition late in the year. However, seeing him cut off hard-hit ground balls up the middle and make plays on the back hand deep in the hole left worrisome afterthoughts. From the perspective of each individual game, it was great because the Yankees got the out. But every time Ryan flashed some leather, he exposed how limited Jeter is as a defender.
Honestly, the comparison isn’t even close. Jeter doesn’t reach many balls to his left any more. Ryan often ranges to the opposite side of the bag. It’s ironic that before he replaced Jeter, Ryan was used in a Grantland piece from last August to demonstrate the Captain’s defensive demise.
Jeter can do no wrong. No matter how old he gets and no matter how limited his range is, if he’s healthy and ready to play shortstop, then he’s playing shortstop. He’s earned that right. But in case he is limited to more of a DH or even first base role, the Yankees should re-sign Ryan as insurance at shortstop. If they also re-sign Robinson Cano, he and Ryan could combine to form the best defensive middle infield in the league.
This is not to say Jeter is done by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve seen that guy perform too many miracles to count him out. He’s unbelievable. Only two years ago, pundits were ready to claim that his career might be over after a down year, and what did he do? He came back to bat .316 and led the majors in hits in 2012.
Still, after all the setbacks he endured this year, the Yankees cannot count on Jeter to return as the team’s savior in 2014. They cannot ignore his age, or the fact that injuries limited him to 17 games this year. It sucks, but they have to realize that Jeter is not going to be the Yankees shortstop forever.
The Yankees have question marks at almost every position heading into 2014. Jeter has been a rock for the organization for 19 years, but they should re-sign Ryan as a plan B.