Derek Jeter is a wild card for the New York Yankees heading into the 2014 season. Despite being 39 years old, and the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, Jeter still remains an incredibly important player on the team. One of the keys to this Yankees team is for them to remain healthy, and in order for the middle infield to have some stability and productivity, Jeter has to be able to stay on the field and in the lineup.
If Jeter as an injury-plagued season like he did in 2013, the Yankees will have a problem on their hands. If he is not able to play at least 140 games as a shortstop or designated hitter, the depth in their lineup will drop off considerably. If Jeter can’t stay in the lineup, the Yankees will have to go to Brendan Ryan as their everyday shortstop with Eduardo Nunez backing up him and Kelly Johnson. That is not exactly a power trio manning the middle infield.
This is not a total bashing of Ryan. He is a very nice player, but he is essentially a one-dimensional player. Ryan is one of the better defensive shortstops in the majors, but as a career .237 hitter, with a .299 career on-base percentage and having not hit over .200 in the last two seasons, he is more of a platoon player or a defensive replacement. There would be a lot less stress on opposing pitchers if they have to face Ryan in the ninth spot in the order instead of Jeter in the first or second spot in the order.
So, does the turn of the calendar to 2014 mean that Jeter will make a return to his Hall of Fame-caliber play? Only an optimist can say yes. Two of Jeter’s last four seasons have been either below average or filled with injuries. He has played in the majors for 19 years and 2600 games. Factoring in his age and the wear and tear on his body with all those games, it seems more likely that Jeter will continue his decline. History and logical thought would lean towards him not being the same player. Still, if Jeter can hit .275 or higher and somehow manage to accumulate 10 home runs, 50 or 60 RBIs and a .350 on-base percentage, the Yankees will take those numbers. The Yankees would probably have to replace Jeter with Ryan as a defensive replacement late in games, but if Jeter can stay healthy and keep Ryan as a replacement in late innings, all will be well in the Bronx.