Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (99 R, 15 HRs, 58 RBIs, .316 BA, 9 SB)
To say that Derek Jeter is the living, breathing embodiment of all of what the New York Yankees is about is pretty obvious.
Jeter has been the face of the franchise since he was a rookie in 1996 and, at age 38, he still plays with the same youthful enthusiasm and holds an appreciation for the game he loves so dearly.
This season Jeter does not have to overcome the whispers that he is a washed up player on the downside of a brilliant career. He collected a major-league-best 216 hits last season and his batting average was actually three points higher than his career average of .313.
After a 2010 season in which he hit .270 and he spent the first half of the 2011 languishing around .250, Jeter rediscovered his “old stroke” while rehabbing a calf injury over the All-Star break and he has not stopped hitting since. The whispers about his age have been muted.
In fact, he was the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2012.
Of course, age not only brings wisdom. It also invites nagging injuries and Jeter had a brush with that reality during the Yankees’ pennant push in 2012. A deep bruise on his left ankle had him hobbling most of the latter stages of the season. Perhaps he should have sat out a week but Jeter insisted on playing to help his team win the division.
Then he led them to a victory in five games in the American League Division Series over the Baltimore Orioles by hitting a robust .364.
He had high hopes of leading them to a victory in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers but the noble team captain fractured his ankle in the 12th inning of the game of the series and the Yankees went down in flames in four straight games to the Motor City Kitties.
Jeter had surgery on the ankle in October and Jeter will need four to five months to recover from the procedure. That puts his participation in spring training in question. Manager Joe Girardi said that he will not count out his 13-time All-Star shortstop from playing on Opening Day.
Jeter is reportedly in Tampa, FL, but he is keeping weight off his ankle. So a lot of Jeter’s preparation and conditioning work for the 2013 season will be delayed. That likely means you will not see much of Jeter during the exhibition season, which begins on Feb. 23.
The Yankees obviously will take a very cautious approach with Jeter throughout the spring. If it were any other player, you would doubt he would be ready for the opening bell. But Jeter has a way of surprising Yankee fans.
The question will be what kind of season will Jeter have? Will he continue to hit as he did in last season or will he regress to what he did in 2010?
Much of that answer rides on how healthy Jeter will be and how healthy he can remain for the 162-game schedule. Yankee fans know enough about Jeter to know that if he is 100 percent and he can stay healthy that he likely will come very close to his 2012 numbers.
Jeter spent most of the season as the team’s leadoff hitter, a role he pretty much has held for the past four seasons. Though he never again will approach his career high of 34 stolen bases in 2006, Jeter remains one of the smartest base-runners in the game.
He rarely gets picked off, thrown out stealing or fails to take an extra base when he can. His instincts are impeccable and he can steal a base when he asked to do so.
The biggest question Jeter will face in 2013 will come in the field even though Jeter has won five Gold Gloves in his career. Range for a 38-year-old shortstop is already a question. The larger question is will the ankle injury cut down his range further?
The Yankees won’t know until they see how Jeter plays in the field this season. Two things are in Jeter’s favor, however.
First, as a veteran who knows where to play the hitters, Jeter is able to get to balls a more inexperienced shortstop might not anticipate. The second thing is that Jeter rarely makes careless errors on the balls he does reach. In 133 starts at shortstop last season, Jeter committed only 10 errors, two less than he committed in 2011 in 121 starts.
His .980 fielding percentage was four points above his career mark. So Jeter is no slouch in the field despite his shortcomings with his range.
One thing will be clear during spring training, Yankee fans will see a lot of Eduardo Nunez at the position.
Nunez, 25, would be considered the heir apparent to Jeter if Jeter did not have two seasons left on his contract with the Yankees. After all, in 180 major-league games Nunez has a .272 average with seven home runs and 48 RBIs and 38 stolen bases.
As a right-hand batter Nunez has a line-drive stroke that finds the gaps and he can run like the wind on the bases. The Yankees think he could start for a lot of teams at shortstop because of his bat and his athleticism. But there is huge caveat here.
Nunez has been unable to harness his skills in the field. There is no doubt Nunez has superior range to any shortstop the Yankees have had in recent memory. But Nunez also is inclined to make careless fielding and throwing errors, hence his nickname among Yankee fans as “Eduardo Scissorhands.”
He began the 2012 season as the Yankees’ backup infielder. But after committing a series of baffling errors at third base in early May, Girardi and the front office elected to ship Nunez back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with the idea of returning him to exclusively at shortstop.
Nunez, however, was unable to hone his skills much because he landed on the disabled list for a huge chunk of the season with a right hand injury.
The reason the Yankees still have him on the roster is they would need him if Jeter were somehow unable to return for the first part of the season or if he suffered some sort of setback in his rehab.
Nunez could open 2013 as the starting shortstop and then could remain as a right-hand designated hitter and backup middle infielder for the Yankees because his bat and his speed could be desperately needed on a team that has much less power than it had in 2012.
Nunez actually led the Yankees in steals for much of the season, even though he was sent out in May, until Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki passed him for the team lead in September. That is how bad the Yankees fell off in stolen bases in 2012. Nunez ended up with 17 stolen bases in just 44 games.
Over a full season, Nunez could easily reach 30 to 40 bases and Girardi might see a lot of value in that.
The Yankees also have veteran infielder Jayson Nix to play shortstop.
Nix was signed as a minor-league free-agent and invited to spring training last season. He hit well over .300 in the spring and impressed the team enough to get an assignment to Scranton. When Nunez was shipped out, Nix was pressed into service and he had a solid season.
Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs and filled in well at second, third and short. He also played some outfield. Though Nix will never wow you with his bat or his glove, he also does not make careless mistakes in the field either. He committed only four errors in the 52 games he started last season.
Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30 to make room on the 40-man roster for reliever Mariano Rivera, who was re-signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed that of he was not picked up by another team he would accept assignment to Scranton.
So Nix will be invited to spring training with the same opportunity he was offered last season. He will have a leg up on Nunez because Nix can play third and Nunez likely will not be used there again.
There is a chance that if Jeter proves he is healthy and Nix has a good spring that Nunez could be packaged in a deal for players the Yankees might need for the roster. The Yankees are looking for a backup corner infielder to replace Eric Chavez, who signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Nunez may be the best trade bait the Yankees have right now.
In the minor leagues, the Yankees have a trio of middle infielders who are among their Top 20 prospects, however, only one of them has reached Double-A Trenton. So help at this position is years away.
Jose Pirela, 23, was signed as shortstop but has played all over the diamond. The 5-foot-10, 191-pounder out of Venezuela hit .293 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games at Trenton last season. He has line-drive power and only average speed. He is now being thought of as a potential middle-infield backup at the major-league level.
Angelo Gumbs, 20, was also signed as shortstop out of high school in Southern California but he played his first two seasons as a second baseman. The team’s No. 8 prospect hit .272 with seven home runs, 33 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 67 games at Class-A Charleston last season. An elbow injury he suffered in June shelved him for the rest of the season.
Gumbs is very raw but he does show promise as a hitter and he plays with an all-out style scouts love.
Austin Aune, 19, is a pure shortstop who hit .273 with a home run and 20 RBIs while stealing six bases in 39 games at Class-A Tampa in the Gulf Coast League. Aune is a potential five-tool player out of Texas who bats left-handed with plus power. He has good range and a great arm at short but the former two-sport star who spurned Texas Christian to sign with Yankees may end up as an outfielder at some point.
The Yankees know their future at the position is a long way off. The immediate concern is getting their captain and their leader Jeter healthy for the coming season. Though 38-year-olds tend to take longer to heal, Jeter is more than capable of making a full recovery in time for the start of the season.
The Yankees are lucky to Nunez available to play until Jeter is ready. Nix provides even more insurance at this position.
Shortstop does not to be appear to be a major concern. The only way it would is if Jeter has a major setback and Nunez is traded. A season with Nix starting at short would be disaster. The Yankees still need Jeter as much as Jeter needs them.
NEXT: SECOND BASE
PART 3: THE STARTING LINEUP
The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty in their starting lineup than they have in the past two decades.
A combination of committed contracts to aging veterans, expired contracts to some helpful contributors, injuries and underperformance have left the Yankees in a real bind to fix their problems knowing they have an edict by the boss Hal Steinbrenner to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014.
The most significant issue is the impending January left hip surgery for third baseman Alex Rodriguez which will shelve him for at least half the season. Because Rodriguez has not played a full healthy season of baseball since 2007 it should not be considered that big a deal.
However, it points up the problem with offering lengthy and lucrative contracts to players past the age of 30. Players break down at a rapid rate after that and that is particularly true of players who have dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs as A-Rod has.
The plain fact of the matter is that Rodriguez IS NOT nor WILL HE EVER BE AGAIN the impact player he was in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Yankees are committed to paying him through the 2017 season.
If you want to look up the definition of the euphemism “albatross around the neck” A-Rod’s picture would be displayed prominently.
Seemingly healthy to begin the 2012 season, Rodriguez neither produced with power or run production. Every day manager Joe Girardi cautioned the media that A-Rod always produced home runs in bunches and it would be any day now. But that day never arrived.
He was struck in the left hand by a pitch from Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on July 24 and the injury sidelined him until the first week of September. At season’s end, Rodriguez had 18 home runs and 57 RBIs and batted .272. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch when he was healthy either.
With runners in scoring position he hit a miserable .230 and with the bases loaded he hit .200.
Unfortunately, the Yankees may be saddled with A-Rod for the remainder of his contract because his skills have eroded so fast no team would be willing to take him and his bloated contract now that he is 37.
So all the Yankees can do is look to find a replacement for him for 2013 because there is no guarantee he will be able to come back in July.
Last year’s insurance policy, Eric Chavez, who hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs in 278 at-bats, has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Nunez fielded to so poorly at third base he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees have vowed to keep him primarily at shortstop.
So the Yankees have signed free-agent Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis, 33, has had some injury issues of his own. He does not have a season in which he has played more than 147 games. He had not played but one season in which he passed 136 games in four seasons. His all-out style was popular in Boston but it also led to some significant injuries and a decline in production.
After a 2011 season in which he hit only .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs, Youkilis ran afoul of then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He ended up hitting a career-low .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.
But the Yankees hope he can help fill the void at third while Rodriguez is out and fall into a right-handed designated hitter and corner infield backup role when Rodriguez returns. Though it may seem odd that the heart and soul of the Red Sox would be wearing pinstripes, Johnny Damon had no trouble adapting to life in the Yankee Universe. Neither did Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens. “Youk” would seem to be in the same mold.
There is an issue at shortstop as well.
Though Derek Jeter vows his broken ankle will be healed and he will be ready to go by Opening Day of 2013, he also is 38 years old. So the Yankees will want their captain and emotional leader to be cautious in spring training.
Jeter’s injury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers pretty much sounded the death knell for a team that was already reeling in the midst of an horrific team batting slump.
Jeter was one of the few who actually contributed positively to the offense in 2012.
He led the major leagues in hits with 219 and he ended up hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though this is the not the Jeter who hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999, the Yankees are happy to have this more mature Jeter, who has learned how to adapt to his age and still produce positively to the team.
He simply was the team Most Valuable Player last season and the Yankees seem to have stopped talking nonsense like moving him to center-field or resting him two days a week. He will rest some but he will play a lot in 2013 because the Yankees need him at the top of the lineup.
The Yankees’ best player is also one who poses the most uncertainty heading into 2013. Robinson Cano, 30, is simply the best second baseman in baseball both with his glove and his bat. He also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2013 while batting over .300 (.308) for the seventh time in his eight major-league seasons.
However, Cano hardly could call 2012 his “breakout” season because he drove in a paltry 94 runs hitting in the heart of baseball’s top run-scoring team. The reason: He hit poorly most of the season with runners in scoring position. Also, in a huge reversal in a trend, Cano hit just .239 against left-handers.
That will have to change in 2013 because he figures to continue to see a steady diet of them.
There is a big incentive for Cano to improve. His contract for 2013 was renewed by the Yankees but he can become a free agent after this season. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll, Cano’s impending free agency presents a huge challenge. Will general manager Brian Cashman have the financial backing to present a package that can keep Cano in pinstripes for the rest of his career?
That is huge question only the Steinbrenner family can answer. But one thing is certain: The Yankees would certainly regress in 2014 without their best player.
Speaking of regression, Mark Teixeira has found out just how fast a career can regress when you follow former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi’s pull-happy approach at Yankee Stadium.
Teixeira, however, changed his tune about it in 2012. Instead of trying to change back as he did at the start of the 2012 season, he decided to keep the “pull” approach figuring the Yankees pay him to hit home runs and drive in runs. So he hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 runs in a season that was cut to just 123 games due to a calf injury he suffered in August.
He hit just .251 but that is coming off seasons in which he hit .256 (2010) and .248 (2011). So Yankee fans are just going to have to accept lower batting averages and big production out of Teixeira. He more than makes up for it with his glove.
He and Cano both won Gold Gloves in 2012 and they form the best right side of an infield in baseball history from a fielding and production standpoint. Can you name a better pair?
The Yankees will have one huge hole filled in their lineup in left-field with the return of Brett Gardner and having to fill two more at catcher and in right-field.
Gardner’s loss last season proved to be more problematic in hindsight than it was at the time. With Gardner, 29, sidelined and Nunez in the minors the Yankees lost their two best base-stealers for most of the 2012 season. That made the Yankees much more of a station-to-station team and brought to the forefront their reliance on the home run to win games.
It also goes beyond saying that Gardner’s Gold-Glove quality in defense in left was missed, too. The Yankees need Gardner to come back healthy, get on base consistently and be disruptive to the team’s opponents on the bases.
For the past two seasons, the Yankees have reaped the benefit of having a stalwart defensive catcher in Russell Martin, who actually deterred teams who like to run the bases with reckless abandon. Though Martin struggled most of the season hitting under the “Mendoza Line” until he got hot in September, his power will be missed also.
But Martin has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees are looking for a new catcher in 2013.
At the moment, the Yankees list Francisco Cervelli as the heir apparent. Cervelli, 26, was the primary backup for three seasons from 2009 through 2011 until the Yankees acquired San Francisco Giants catcher Chris Stewart in a trade just as spring training drew to a close.
Because Stewart, 30, was out of options, the Yankees elected to keep Stewart as the backup catcher in 2012 and shipped Cervelli to Scranton.
Cervelli hit .246 with two home and 39 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton in 2012. His defense is fine but his throwing can be erratic at times.
Stewart surprisingly hit .241 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 55 games with the Yankees. His defense and throwing are superior to Cervelli but his offense is severely lacking.
The Yankees did sign former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to a minor-league contract. Wilson was non-tendered a contract by the Blue Jays after he hit .211 with three home runs and 13 RBIs with the Angels in 2012. Wilson is excellent defensively but is a career .208 hitter in the majors. So it is hard to see how he will figure in as anything but a potential backup and insurance in case the Yankees need to trade a catcher or sustain an injury.
The Yankees do have very high hopes for 24-year-old rookie Austin Romine. They believe his defensive skills make him a major-league ready receiver but his bat and his chronic back issues have been delaying his progess. He missed most all of the 2012 season with a back injury.
He has been cleared to come to spring training and he has a shot at supplanting either Cervelli or Stewart if he can show some improved skills with the bat. But realistically, the team may take a more cautious approach with Romine and he could head back to Scranton to convince the front office his back issues are over.
This area seems ripe for a deal to obtain a free agent. Cashman did have former Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in mind. Pierzynski, 35, would fit in with the Yankees because he hits left-handed and he has some power. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBis in 2012.
But Pierzynski elected to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers. So unless the Yankees elect to make a trade they will be choosing between the four catchers they have now.
The biggest hole in the Yankees lineup and perhaps the biggest blow to the bleacher bums in right-field will be the loss of fan favorite Nick Swisher.
Swisher might not have been a superstar but his consistency was his calling card. What you saw was what you got.
Swisher, 32, has played four seasons in pinstripes and did not deviate from between 24 through 29 home runs and between 82 and 93 RBIs. There are not many outfielders who can claim that and the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the level, except perhaps the oft-injured star Josh Hamilton.
The Yankees did have an opportunity to sign the former Texas Rangers’ star if they wanted. But they have some restriction to them doing so.
If the Yankees were to sign Hamilton, Cano’s departure would be a foregone conclusion unless there was a major dump of salary after the 2013 season. Hamilton signed with the Angels and the Yankees played it safe.
The Yankees instead decided to bring back Ichiro Suzuki, who came over in a trade in June and sparked the Yankees down the stretch. At age 39, Suzuki is no longer the player he was when he was the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 but he showed a renewed vigor in the Bronx in 2012, hitting over .300 after the deal.
He ended the season hitting. 283 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs and he stole 29 bases.
It is obvious if the Yankees want to return to a slash and dash attack Girardi favors, Suzuki would be the correct choice.
Center-field is an interesting situation for the Yankees.
The team renewed Curtis Granderson’s contract for 2012 but there are all kinds of rumors swirling around about him.
The Yankees first floated the idea they could move Gardner from left to center and put Granderson in left next season. They also sent Granderson to an eye specialist to check his vision because of his habit of losing balls in flight to the outfield and his penchant for swinging at pitches that bounced in front of home plate.
Granderson struck out a team record 195 times last season. The Yankees can live with the strikeouts for his 43 home runs and 106 RBIs, which were both team highs in 2012. But his .232 average is 30 points below his career average of .262 and he hit just .218 against left-handers last season. Granderson is also in the final year of his contract.
The Yankees also seemed intent on keeping outfielder and left-handed DH Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez, 40, was forced to play more than he was expected in the outfield because of Gardner’s injury. But Ibanez came through with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while hitting .24o in 384 at-bats. But Ibanez’s biggest impact was the clutch home runs he hit down the stretch against the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox to get the Yankees into the playoffs.
He carried that into the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
His clutch hitting was not lost on the front office and they wanted him back badly in 2013. But Ibanez dealt a blow to the Yankees by electing to sign with his old Mariners team so the Yankees now have a huge hole at the DH spot.
The Yankees made it clear that right-hand DH Andruw Jones would not retained for the 2012 season and Jones shopped himself to a team in Japan. The Yankees likely will use a veteran free agent to fill the role until A-Rod returns in July. Rodriguez figures to DH a lot when he returns and Youkilis can fill the role when A-Rod does play third.
Nunez figures to have an opportunity to win the right-hand DH role until A-Rod returns. The left side of the equation might come down to an offer to Jim Thome or a similar veteran.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, most of their best minor-league hitting prospects are a few years away of making an impact at the major-league level.
The top prospect in the organization, catcher Gary Sanchez, is only 20. But he may be worth the wait because he hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2012. Sanchez is being touted as “Jesus Montero with defense.” However, his glovework slipped a notch last season.
But the Yankees still believe he is their future behind the plate.
Outfielder Mason Wiiliams, 21, had a torn labrum ended his season his August. However, Williams was able to flash some five-tool talent by hitting a combined .298 with a 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases at Charleston and Tampa.
Some are comparing him to another Williams named Bernie. He has a good bat and he is developing power as he progresses through the system. The Yankees absolutely love his high ceiling for improvement. The lefty swinger looks like a future center-fielder for the Yankees.
Somewhat lost in all the talk about Sanchez and Williams is 21-year-old outfielder Tyler Austin, who hit an organization-best .354 in 2011 and hit .322 in four minor-league stops in 2012. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs while stealing 23 bases.
Austin played his first two minor-league seasons at the corner infield spots but was moved to right-field last season and the Yankees see him as the real deal as a right-hand hitter.
The Yankees also have a trio of promising outfielders in power-hitting Zoilo Almonte, 23, who hit 21 bombs at Double-A Trenton, and slash-and-dash hitters in 2009 No. 1 draft pick Slade Heathcott, 22, and Ramon Flores, 20.
Third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., 20, the team’s first selection in the 2011 draft, hit only three home runs at Charleston in 2012 but the Yankees believe he will develop into the kind of power hitter his father was. Called up to appear in an exhibition game against the Astros last March, Bichette hit a pair of solo home runs in only two exhibition at-bats. His star is definitely on the rise.
The Yankees also have a trio in promising infielders in Angelo Gumbs, 20; Jose Pirela, 23; and Austin Aune, 19. However, only Pirela has advanced as far as Double A and Gumbs and Aune may eventually be moved to the outfield. For now Gumbs and Pirela are second basemen and Aune is power-hitting shortstop.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (15 HRs, 58 RBIs, .316 BA, 99 Runs, 9 SB)
There are just some people who are fortunate enough to have everything go their way in life. They have a dream job, they make a good amount of money and they date all the beautiful women.
That is Derek Jeter and his 2012 season was something he can brag about.
In 2010, he suffered through a subpar campaign in which he hit .270 and he looked like he was nearing the end at age 36. In the first half of 2011, it got much worse.
Jeter was struggling with a no-stride batting approach that batting coach Kevin Long suggested. He abandoned it and his average tumbled even more. Then he suffered a calf injury that landed him on the disabled list.
He went to Tampa,FL, to rehab the injury and then took the time to work with his old batting coach Gary Dembo to rediscover his old swing. All Jeter did after rejoining the Yankees was hit .336 the rest of the way and it re-established his credentials as one of the best singles hitters of his generation.
But as the 2012 season began there were still those that doubted Jeter could maintain the stroke that got him 3,000 hits and had him at a lifetime batting average of .313.
In the first half, Jeter was able to keep that pace by hitting .303. It seemed every day he was passing players like Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken on the all-time hits list. He also was driving the ball well enough to hit seven home runs and drive in 25 runs from the leadoff spot.
The only negatives is that he scored only 42 runs and stole six bases. The runs total had a lot to do with the fact the Yankees were the worst team in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position. The stolen base total had more to do with Jeter turning 38.
He stole 30 bases in 2009 but is pretty obvious that Jeter has to choose his spots more carefully now. The good thing is that Jeter realizes it and does not get thrown out on the bases trying to prove he can. He is much smarter than that.
Jeter made the All-Star team as the starting shortstop and he actually earned it rather than getting the nod simply because of his reputation.
You would think Jeter might have slowed down a bit in the second half. Instead, he just got better.
He raised his overall average 10 points, hit eight home runs, drove in 33 runs and scored 57 runs to come within a single run of scoring 100.
Jeter had scored at least 100 runs in 13 of his 17 full seasons in the majors. But the fact he missed had more to do with the flux in the batting order behind with injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and the inconsistency of the team’s hitting with runners in scoring position.
Jeter’s numbers this season are unprecedented for shortstops his age. There are few shortstops who are in baseball at that age. There are fewer who actually able to start. And Jeter is the only one who has actually led the major leagues in hits with 216.
That is Jeter’s second highest total of hits in his career. He had 219 hits in his magical 1999 season when he hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs when he was 25.
Jeter is not 25 any more and he will never approach those gaudy power numbers of 1999. But the Yankees can live with the 2012 numbers.
“The Captain” is not quite ready to take his commission and retire. Why should he?
The only area where Jeter does show his age, besides stealing bases, is in the field. But even there, Jeter can still make the plays with amazing precision.
Jeter only committed 10 errors this season, two less than he committed in 2011. He also did that with much more chances because he was on the disabled list for about a month last season.
I know the sabermetricians out there use Jeter as their favorite whipping post because of his reduced range in the field. That is true. Jeter is no longer able to range far to his right and he maybe lets a few balls get through he used to reach easily. But he still plays the position at a high degree of skill.
His five Gold Glove awards do not lie.
It goes back to that old argument of do you want a steady hand at shortstop who may not have much range or do you want a shortstop with the range of half the Earth who too often throws the ball into the seats? Given this choice I would take Jeter every time. That is the choice manager Joe Girardi has made when critics have suggested Eduardo Nunez should play shortstop.
Girardi knows better and the fans who sit along the first-base line at Yankee Stadium thank him for it.
The only comparison to Jeter I can make is Ozzie Smith, who played at a very high level with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 at age 38. He hit .295 and stole 43 bases.
“The Wizard” is in the Hall of Fame and Jeter is going to join him someday. Special players to do special things and Jeter and Smith are as special as it gets at the shortstop position.
Smith is the best fielder I have seen at the position and Jeter is, by far, the best pure hitter of them all.
MIDSEASON GRADE: A-
SECOND-HALF GRADE: A
OVERALL GRADE: A
BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (4 HRs, 18 RBIs, .243 BA)
Nix was discussed in detail in my post grading Robinson Cano.
He spent most of the season as Jeter’s backup at short after Nunez was demoted for treating the baseball like it was a hand grenade.
Nix started 15 games at shortstop and committed only one error. He was steady with the glove and he contributed well with the bat, too.
Nix, 30, will never come close to being the athlete Nunez, 25, is. Nunez is faster, a better hitter and he has much better range in the field. But you also know Nix will make the pays in the field and he will not hurt you when he plays.
Nix, however, will miss the early part of the playoffs with a left hip flexor injury. So Nunez will be Jeter’s backup at shortstop for now.
The Yankees have high hopes he can be the future of the Yankees at shortstop. But he is a work in progress.
He was making an alarming number of errors when the Yankees demoted him in May. Girardi said they were hurting Nunez’s development by making him a utility infielder and said the team will try to keep him at shortstop.
That should help Nunez, who is more comfortable there. Nunez is a very good line-drive hitter with excellent speed and he helps balance the Yankees’ lefty-laden lineup. If he can just harness the fielding aspects of the game he could become a very good player at short.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND-HALF GRADE: C
OVERALL GRADE: C
Nunez played in only 38 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre due to a nagging right thumb injury so Ramiro Pena ended up playing the most there. However, after Pena was recalled on Sept. 1 a calf injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to bring in Steve Pearce to back up at first and Pena was designated for assignment.
The Yankees also played veteran Doug Bernier at Scranton but he is career journeyman without any prospect of remaining with the Yankees except as a future coach.
The Yankees do have a potential star in 20-year-old Austin Aune, who hit .273 with one home run and 20 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League. Aune is a lefty hitter with a potential power bat and has good range and a great arm at shortstop. But scouts believe Aune might have to move to center-field at some point to maximize his speed and arm.
Cito Culver, 19, appears to be a bust as the team’s No. 1 choice in 2010. He hit just .215 in 122 games at Class-A Charleston.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A
Jeter has always been an intangibles player. He is given credit for playing the game smart with his positioning and his knowledge of the game is second to none. But when he hits like he did this season, it is something special to watch.
When a career .313 hitter leads the majors in hits and bats .316 at age 38, you have to tip your cap to the abilities of a player like this.
Will he do it again in 2013? Who can say for sure?
All you have to do is watch Jeter in the playoffs because that has been his playground for 17 seasons. Jeter is a career .307 hitter in the playoffs.
So the big stage is not something he ever has dodged. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the Yankees will go as far as No. 2 takes them.