Are the Yankees better off without Derek Jeter? No one in the organization will touch that question — at least not now, and certainly not on the record — but the team’s overall surge in the last two weeks has left officials wondering what to do with the aging captain when he finally comes off the disabled list.Don't pretend this wasn't on your mind already, because I know I have been thinking the same things lately.
In one sense, Jeter will be welcomed like a returning hero, ready to become the first Yankee to collect 3,000 hits — he's just six shy. But beneath the layer of pageantry is the front office's cold, calculated understanding of what's happened since June 14.
The Yankees are 10-3 during Jeter’s absence, not only catching and passing the Red Sox to sit atop the AL East, but now boasting the American League’s best record. Eduardo Nunez, the interim shortstop, is batting .295 during this 13-game span with a .354 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage.
Meanwhile, with the flexibility to rearrange his batting order, Joe Girardi has used both Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher in the leadoff spot. The result? The two have combined to hit .298 with three doubles, a homer and a .441 on-base percentage from that spot. Gardner, in particular, is passing the audition to eventually replace Jeter in the No. 1 spot: He’s batting .352 with a .439 on-base percentage and 16 runs in 22 games since June 4.
It’s numbers such as these that make the Yankees squirm, as they’re torn between their respect for Jeter’s legacy and the knowledge that he’s obviously declined.
GM Brian Cashman plays it safe when asked about the Yankees’ Jeter-less run, “I think this shows how talented we are, how we can withstand losing one our of everyday guys for a period of time” — although a more accurate barometer of Jeter’s standing with his employers was the haste with which they placed him on the DL.
The captain lobbied hard to remain on the active roster after straining a calf muscle, even though it would’ve left the Yankees shorthanded as they began interleague play. Jeter noted that Russell Martin had been able to work his way through a minor back injury without landing on the DL. Jeter all but asked: Why me and not him?
The Yankees were polite enough to not actually spell it out to Jeter, but the difference is that Martin was, and is, more vital to the Yankees’ everyday success. This isn’t 1999, when Jeter, at his peak, was a .342 hitter. These days, he’s receded to singles-only type offense. Even more damning, those timely, big hits of the past have disappeared.
With the Yankees in the middle of a hot streak and Nunez hitting so capably, is anyone other than Jeter really watching the calendar?
The main thing that has helped this team so much in Jeter's absence is getting a hitter in the leadoff spot who isn't an automatic out. So, if Jeter comes back and has no problem sliding into that 9th spot, than I think the Yankees won't be much worse than they have been during this stretch. But of course, it won't be that easy.
The idea that Jeter will just accept batting at the bottom of the order is nothing short of laughable. Sure, a captain is supposed to always do what's best for the team, put the team first, etc., but when you have an ego as large as Jeter's, well then sometimes the team doesn't come first.
I know you all love Jeter, and you should. He's been a great Yankee and a hero to many of us. But there comes a time in every player's career when he has to realize that he's not the 25-year-old he once was. I can't image that's ever something that's easy to do, but am I (and Klapisch) the only ones who feel it's time for Jeter to bite the bullet and just accept whatever role the Yankees throw at him?