Jun 022010

Over at the beloved ESPN New York, writer Andrew Marchand ponders Derek Jeter’s defense on the season, and, related to that, his future with the Yankees. Essentially, Marchand views Jeter’s defense through a fairly negative lens – he has had a few issues going to his left, but his defense, on the whole, has not been terrible in my opinion (it has not been great, but it has been manageable, thus far) – and then goes on to wonder how his glove will influence the free agent negotiations he has with the Yankees come the end of 2010. Assuming the Yankees resign Jeter, Marchand also reflects upon a possible position change for the 35-year old shortstop. Marchand’s piece is basically the same article you have read over and over again regarding Jeter’s defense, especially prior to last season’s defensive revival, as it touches upon all of the common defensive themes.

In fact, Marchand seems to discuss everything except for the fact that, regardless of his diminished range, the Yankees need Derek Jeter at shortstop because they do not have a suitable internal option to replace him. And, as younger players continue to up their capital in baseball – older players are seemingly cast aside nowadays – while choosing to forego free agency dollars in order to sign lengthy multiyear contracts with the organizations that raised them, nor will it be easy to find a suitable replacement for The Captain via free agency or trade. Hence, the Yankees need Derek Jeter, not in left field, at DH, or in RF, but as their shortstop. As long as Jeter continues to hit and can be deemed “manageable” at short, the Yankees will need and want to continue playing him there. There is no one else waiting in the winds – sorry Eduardo Nunez fans – and the team does not have much else that they can do. Replacing someone means having a replacement, after all.

If Jeter signs a 4-year deal ($20 million per), as an agent in Marchand’s piece predicts, can you really see the Yankees having a capable replacement to takeover short during that period? Can you really see them asking Jeter to move around the diamond if he manages to hit inline with his career numbers? I just do not see that happening. Perhaps if the Yankees had a young prospect with a good bat that was also defensively superior the “move Jeter” idea would make sense. They do not have that, however, making the idea seem farfetched. Therefore, to quote Kevin Goldstein, “Jeter will likely play shortstop in New York as long as he wants to.”

From George King:

The Post has learned Adeinis Hechavarria is going to get more money than the $8 million Jose Iglesias Iglesias got from the Red Sox.
However, it won’t be from the Yankees. And it has nothing to do with the Yankees not wanting to spend the money on the Cuban refugee shortstop.
According to an industry source Hechavarria is close to signing a $10 million deal with the Blue Jays because he didn’t envision himself playing short for the Yankees.
Hechavarria, 21, was leery of Derek Jeter’s impending extension that will keep him at short for the foreseeable future.

This is an unexpected first casualty of the Jeter contract situation. A prospect like Hechevarria is unique in the sense that he is close to the majors and can pick an organization that has room for him. This differs from most international prospects, who are typically 16-18 years old and are 3-5 years away from the majors, so that the current rosters of the clubs are largely irrelevant. While this is an unfortunate loss of a talent that the Yankees liked, it is probable that the only way the Yankees could have changed the shortstop’s mind was to offer him a lot more money than they thought he was worth, a poor way for a team to do business. The only logical move was to pass.

The news that Nomar Garciaparra retired this morning brought back an old argument that used to rage between Yankees and Red Sox fans: which club’s shortstop was better? In terms of career value, the obvious answer is Jeter, as he continues to play at a high level while Nomar is hanging up his spikes. The more interesting question is, which player was better during the time span from 1997-2004, when Nomar was manning shortstop for the Sox?

In terms of perception, the two players were fairly equal. Over the 8 year span, Jeter made 6 All-Star teams and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 4 times, while adding one Gold Glove. Meanwhile, Nomar made 5 All-Star teams but finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 5 times. From what I recall, the perception was that Nomar was a slightly flashier offensive player, but that Jeter was close in that regard and was more dependable in the clutch and a greater winner.

In terms of statistics, however, Nomar was almost certainly the better player over the period, and likely would have been recognized as such if the current statistical revolution had occurred 5-10 years earlier. Let’s take a look at the WAR numbers on both players, courtesy of

Derek Jeter:

Nomar Garciaparra:

Jeter was worth exactly 41 wins above replacement from 1997 through 2004. Nomar was worth 41.5 wins over the span, despite playing just 21 games in 2001 and 81 games in 2004 due to injury. That means that when he was on the field, Nomar provided more value than Jeter did, with Derek’s poor defense towards the end of the period really hurting his overall WAR. However, the first part of that sentence is the real caveat here. If Nomar Garciaparra had Derek’s durability, he likely would be remembered as the better player. However, his inability to stay healthy torpedoed that legacy, and renders the comparison moot. In the end, Nomar’s story is one that engenders a discussion of “what could have been.”

What do you think about the Jeter-Nomar debate?

In a larger piece about Jeter’s improved defense and his new workout regimen, Ian O’Connor delivers a money quote:

Jeter realized he had to alter his method of preparation. He realized he had to improve to meet his stated goal of playing well into his 40s, and of spending the majority of those years at the only position he’s ever wanted to hold.

So with Yankees officials and coaches privately hoping their shortstop could restore his diminishing range and table the ultradelicate issue of a possible move to the outfield, Jeter hired a new fitness trainer before last season for the purpose of fielding more balls to his left.

“We discussed how we can keep him in the game as long as he wants to play,” said Jason Riley, director of performance of the Athletes Compound at Tampa’s Saddlebrook Resort. “Derek said it may not be eight to 10 years at shortstop, but that he wanted to play that long.

Playing another 5-8 years from the end of this season would mean Jeter playing until he was anywhere from 40-43. While some continue to suggest that Jeter will soon need to make a position change, I am not so certain. As long as he keeps his glove at or above league average, something he has done over the last two years, his bat plays better at short than it will anywhere else. It would take a major defensive decline to convince me that he needs to be moved to retain his value.

In regard to his offense, I think that he has the right skill set to stay effective into his 40’s. While bat speed is generally the first thing to go, I would suggest that a player who frequently tries to stay back on the ball and drive it the other way would likely be able to compensate for reduced bat speed. As long as he stays in shape, he should be at worst an adequate answer at shortstop for the next 5 years.

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