Derek Jeter: A Latter Day Robin Yount?
Of all the interesting events during the World Baseball Classic, one may have a longer, more resonant effect on baseball's landscape than any other. Here's a hint: It didn't happen in the championship game, and it didn't even have anything to do the Netherlands' monumental upset of the Dominican Republic.
No, the moment that may stand out for Major League Baseball was the error that sealed Japan's win over the U.S. on Sunday night. It was Derek Jeter's fault; he botched a relatively routine throw from a difficult grounder, and it cost the U.S. In the long run, it may also eventually cost him his position with the Yankees, too.
The theory goes a little like this: It's becoming more commonly accepted that Jeter is, without a doubt, one of the major leagues' worst defensive shortstops. The data behind the fact is nearly unassailable -- he's always struggled to throw across his body when ranging to his left, and he now is more error prone making the athletic jump throws and relays that were once his hallmark. One University of Pennsylvania Wharton School study found that Jeter was the worst defensive shortstop in the major leagues in 2008. Sure, Jeter still has a penchant for a highlight play that saves runs, but he's equally prone to the egregious error, which is precisely what we saw on Sunday night.
Now, as others realize Jeter is more of a defensive liability than a strength, pressure is slowly starting to build for the Yankees to shore up their shortstop defense. The team also has two shortstop prospects progressing rapidly through the minor league ranks, and everyone knows the Yankees are never afraid to make a splash on the free agent market, or via a trade. And the Marlins, new stadium or not, will be due for another salary purge within a year or two. The Red Sox already inquired about Hanley Ramirez this offseason, and putting him in pinstripes would push Theo Epstein and the Boston brass completely over the edge.
Put the factors together, and you could make a case that Jeter's tenure as the starting shortstop of the Yankees could come to an end, perhaps as soon as the end of his current contract, which runs out after the 2010 season.
Naturally, that won't be the end of Jeter as a Yankee. He's the face of the Yankees, and he will always be as long as he still puts on a uniform. The odds of Jeter ever suiting up for another team seem about as astronomical as Scott Boras telling Stephen Strasburg to sign for the major league minimum. Jeter and the Yankees are a mutually beneficial partnership, for the stability of both the team and Jeter's wallet.
Luckily, there's still a role in which Jeter could be hugely beneficial to the team: As New York's next center fielder.
The Yankees have never truly been able to fill the center field void left by another 90s Yankee icon, Bernie Williams, and this year the position will be manned by two outfielders as nondescript as you can get: Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner.
That just means that the position is truly up for grabs, and unless Gardner becomes the next Carlos Quentin, it'll be ripe for the taking come 2011 when Jeter could step in and switch positions.
The transition is anything but unprecedented. Robin Yount made the switch with more success than anyone else, and Jeter has already been compared to the Hall of Famer for his earlier career as a heavy hitting shortstop.
It's a move that makes sense, even if Jeter doesn't want to hear it. And, according to this article by the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand, he's not even considering the switch.
"That's the plan," Jeter said. "I haven't really thought about how long I'm playing. I take it one year at a time; I don't sit down and say, 'Well, I hope I'm playing in two-thousand whatever.' It's a tough question, because I haven't really thought about it much."
Could Jeter, who has been named to eight American League All-Star teams in his 12 big-league seasons - four as the league's starting shortstop - ever see himself playing another position?
"Right now?" Jeter said, "No. ... Hopefully, I don't have to think about that for quite some time."
Somehow, that doesn't seem likely.
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