Derek Jeter’s return could be the final piece of the Yankees’ puzzle

NYP: Hal holds meeting with staff to discuss lack of minor league talent
Heyman: Mariners requested to interview Cashman for GM opening in '08
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

This has been nothing short of a nightmare season for Derek Jeter. After a brilliant 2012 campaign in which he led all of baseball with 740 plate appearances and 216 hits, the Cap’n has been limited to just five of the team’s first 125 games due to a string of leg injuries this year. First it was the broken ankle, next it was the strained quad, then it was the strained calf. One injury after another.

Jeter, who turned 39 two months ago, has been on the DL for 18 days with the calf problem now. After several days of taking batting practice and fielding ground balls down at the club’s complex in Tampa, he graduated to a simulated game on Monday and running the bases on Tuesday. Running sprints in the outfield is one thing, but running the bases — having to cut and change direction — is another. Running the bases is usually the final rehab step before a return to game action.

“There’s a plan in place. I’m not gonna reveal the plan until we get there … The fact that he’s running the bases is a positive sign for me,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin earlier this week while discussing Jeter’s progress and a possible return date. As for rejoining the club in Tampa for their upcoming weekend series against the Rays, Girardi offered a simple “I’m not sure.”

It goes without saying the shortstop position has been a black hole for the Yankees this season. Eduardo Nunez, who the team so desperately wants to show he’s a capable everyday player, has hit a meager .244/.301/.377 (71 wRC+) with shaky defense and plenty of injury problems of his own. Other fill-ins like Reid Brignac and Luis Cruz were sub-replacement level. WAR isn’t the holy grail of player valuations, but I don’t think too many people will argue with the AL-worst -0.9 fWAR the Yankees have gotten from the position this year. If anything, they might be getting off easy. The team’s shortstops have been awful.

Jeter, on the other hand, isn’t awful. At least I don’t think he is. He might be awful for a few weeks after coming off the DL, it happens, but that would be more of a surprise than anything. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Jeter to repeat last year’s .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) performance, not after missing all this time (rust!), but I think it’s completely reasonable to expect something better than the .221/.279/.293 (54 wRC+) line the Yankees have gotten from his replacements. That doesn’t mean they’ll actually get it, the Cap’n could always stink for no apparent reason, but I would expect it.

On the field, Jeter will be a huge upgrade over the team’s current shortstops. That’s not really much of a question at this point. And you know what else? Something about the Yankees just feels different when Jeter isn’t around. It’s hard to explain and yet I know you know exactly what I mean. The team give off a different vibe when he’s in the lineup — the offense feels more capable and I have a greater sense of confidence in the lineup overall. What know I mean? Does that feeling resonate with the players and have a tangible on-field impact? I have no idea. I just know the Yankees with Jeter are better than the Yankees without Jeter.

Thanks to yesterday’s doubleheader sweep over the Blue Jays, New York has won four straight games and eight of their last ten. They’ve shaved two games off their deficit in the second wildcard race during that time, passing the Royals in the process. Now there are only three teams ahead of them. That’s still a daunting task, no doubt about it, but things are heading the right direction. Getting Jeter back — hopefully this weekend or shortly thereafter — and adding him to a lineup made deeper by the recent Alfonso Soriano trade and activations of Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson will be the final realistic upgrade the Yankees could make this year. Their postseason odds are small, but the Cap’n could be the final piece of the puzzle that helps them make a strong push down the stretch.

NYP: Hal holds meeting with staff to discuss lack of minor league talent
Heyman: Mariners requested to interview Cashman for GM opening in '08
  • JGYank

    Jeter can help just by taking Nunez and Nix out the lineup (and Nunez away from a glove). He still hits lefties well and takes away a hole in the lineup. That only leaves one weak spot at catcher. I think he can still be an average hitter and I’ll live with his range especially when Nunez is the alternative.

    • CountryClub

      I really wish they would play Romine more. Might as well play the hot bat while you can.

    • WhittakerWalt


      Because they both played good one day this year, basically.

      • Preston

        They absolutely can, on the bench…

      • vicki

        once in a blue moon.

        • Wheels


        • Robinson Tilapia

          Take a bow, vicki.

      • MannyGeee


        John Sterling & Suzyn Waldman

    • VT Yankee Fan

      He hit .294 against RHP last year. Not exactly terrible.

      • JGYank

        Never said it was. Just meant that he hits lefties better. He can still hit and get on base, it’s his defense and health I’m worried about.

  • JLC 776

    I’m real excited for The Captain’s return as well. He’s a definite plus behind a bat and INTANGIBLES!!!(tm) are all great as well. I’m just sincerely worried that he’s not long for this world at this rate. Maybe his knee physically removes itself from his leg during warmups. Or we actually see a bone protrusion during the next run to first base.

    He’s kind of like Mr. Burns right now. He has every single disease known to man and they are all perfectly canceling one another out.

  • trr

    But will he be healthy enough to contribute?

    His range might actually be better than Nunez’.
    Nunez seems incapable of fielding a GB he needs to move for.
    I, too, would welcome the Cap’n back, but let’s be sure he’s ready this time.

    • brian

      the defense is negligible, you’re replacing one bad defensive shortstop with another… however i agree, Jeter, if reasonably healthy, is still a better fielder than Nunez

      is not about that, it’s about the offense, the leadership, and the excitement it generates within the dugout and fanbase

      • jjyank

        Well I wouldn’t go that far. I’m sure that Jeter’s range (or lack thereof) will make us pine for a new SS. BUT, he is about as sure-handed as it gets when he does get to the ball. I guess with Jeets back at SS, I’ll get all nervous when the ball is traveling to the SS area, instead of getting all nervous after the SS catches the ball. If that makes sense.

        • MannyGeee

          1000 times yes. I still hold my breath when a ball ends up in Nunez’ glove, if only because I am worried muscle memory will kick in and he can launch that ball into the stands.

          At least with Jeter, if he gets to it, it will end up in someones glove.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Plus more often than not, when Jeter gets to a ball, the throw is accurate.

      I always figured Nunez would have better range than he does. Poor instincts, maybe. Poor first step? Who knows. He’s certainly athletic enough to have better range.

  • brian

    exactly right all the way around…

    i said a few days ago that if the yankees can get within 3.5 games or so by the time Jeter gets back, and if he comes back and STAYS back… a run to the second wild card is doable

    as much as I want him back yesterday, I say hold out until sundays game against price.. if the plan is bring him back friday, hold out two more days to play it safe, another jeter setback could really take the wind out of this teams sails

    • fabricio

      I agree with you 100% on this and another reason to add is that remember its artificial surface and that could hurt him more and the fact that the next three games after that is in Toronto another stadium with artificial surface

  • dkidd

    intangibles exist

    his return is setting up to be a willis reed moment

  • Squints

    Having the captain back would be a great boost but we forget that hes been gotten injured so soon on comeback part 1 and 2. Hes waring down and how can we say he’ll be back for an extended amount of time, this time?

    • CountryClub

      I don’t think he’s wearing down. I do think his legs are out of shape because he didn’t have the ability to work out all last winter. I think he’ll be fine next yr when he has a winter to do his normal routine. Unfortunately, I’m not so confident about the rest of this season.

      • VT Yankee Fan


      • Robinson Tilapia


  • matt b

    Great to see the Captain back, though I’d argue that right at this moment – not as though the Yanks are in a position of strength – please, please don’t rush the man. If it’s a question of, he won’t have leg strength without another full offseason, but he’s not playing with the kind of bone bruise that may have made more susceptible to the initial break, then, sure, get him back here. But if it’s a question of, an extra 4-5 days can provide meaningful recovery time that significantly enhances the chances that he can stay on the field for the duration, give him the days.

    I say that largely because while you’ll never hear me yapping about Eduardo Nunez as the Yanks’ everday starting shortstop, at least his offensive production is up since he rejoined the team from his own injury, and the trend within the trend is even more positive (though in a small sample):

    Since rejoining the team July 6, 138 PA, .272/.312/.376 – nothing to make me race out for my Nuney jersey, but that’s adequate production out of the position IF – and here’s the IF – the guy were even a reasonably capable fielder. But he is hot right now.

    August: .285/.333/.429 – given the current crop of MLB shortstops, that’s the type of offensive production you might start to take even with lousy D. But the ultimate point just being, hopefully he’ll continue to hit some, and as much as I distrust the Yanks’ medical crew completely, allow them to get Jeter back at the right time.

    Still think you’re gonna see Jetes DH against LHP quite a bit, but to do that, you’ve got to sit an outfielder – maybe it’s matchup dependent, but generally, I still say it’s Ichiro, despite has massive reverse split this season – Gardner and Granderson largely need to play everyday and I can’t justify sitting Soriano against LHP. What it does effectively do is eliminate any role for Vernon Wells. I’m prepared to live with that. You want Ichiro in there badly enough, then maybe Fonzie can stand at 1B, but I think Reynolds will produce just fine against lefties.

    Against righties, beyond his being Derek Jeter – which has real value, as Mike says, the club does feel different when he’s there – if he can’t play some semblance of shortstop, not sure he provides a tremendous upgrade (at least in the starting lineup) – if he’s gotta DH, Nuney or Nix plays short, I have to assume all three lefty outfielders start (again in my scenarios, I’m sacrificing Ichiro’s reverse split, which really is massive, but also a single season thing), with Overbay at first – which means your DH candidates are Jeter and Soriano – this is one of those “I need to see the player on the field” moments, since Soriano doesn’t kill righties, but he hangs in (splits from this year, ’12, and ’11, WRC+: 95, 118, 95; that’s compared to Jeter, who I’ll just write off his rightly splits this season and look at ’10-’12, moving backwards, WRC+: 100, 83, 72.

    Not sure to what degree folks always pick up on how much of Jeter’s offensive value the last few years – and there’s plenty of offensive value – emanates from his just flat out raking against lefties (157. 171, 137 – hell, even 171 in his SSSSSSS this year (9 against righties, fwiw, which is nothing).

    Interesting stuff, I love to deep dive into all of this, but bottom line is that of course the best case is that Jetes can play shortshop regularly (big implications for next season as well, to be able to see him do that) and hit even mildly about league average, you’re starting to look at one heck of a long lineup again (and a random aside, love the Reynolds singing, should allow the Yanks to start a 1B every night with above average production against whatever handed pitcher he’s facing).

  • Frank

    Mike… I understand the sentiment about Jeter.

    Without Jeter, it feels like the Yankees are composed of a bunch of independent contractors.

    With Jeter, it feels like they’re a team – even if the other faces rotate.

    He’s what I identify with when I think of the “team”.

    • Darren

      I love the “independent contractors’ image. That’s exactly right. Seeing the team earlier this year with Youk, Overbay and the rest was really jarring. Jeter is definitely thge glue that holds it all together.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Yeah, I agree. Nice choice of words there. Best since Mike’s “New York Generic White Guys.”

        Blaming a struggling team for ratings or attendance for whatnot is a red herring to me. It’s not the struggle to me. It was the lack of connection to the guys on the field.

  • Matt DiBari

    “Shakey” is being kind. Nunez is almost as bad in the field as he ever was

  • umbrelladoc

    The last piece may be when rosters expand. They should call up Wilson and/or Murphy. With a number of decent bats on the bench now, they could then pinch hit for the catcher spot multiple times. They have 40 man roster space with Banuelos, Joseph and Nuno as 60 man DL candidates.

    If Jeter returns before Sept 1st, Nunez has options, right? And he comes up before 20 days, he doesn’t lose it either?

    • mitch

      Sending down Nunez is really the only option. I can’t see them cutting ties with Nix or Wells.

  • Eddard

    They should send Huff down or DFA Jobber before sending down Nuney. At the very least Nuney can be a good PR late in ballgames. He’s at least useful. Jobber can’t even get through an inning anymore. Huff hasn’t even been used, although he probably pitches tonight. Send Huff down, DFA Jobber, activate Jeter and bring back Preston and you’ve got yourself a major league ballclub.

    • mitch

      pretty sure Huff would have to be DFAd. Personally, i’d DFA Joba and go with one less pitcher, but you know they’re not going to do that.

  • http://riveravenueblues mississippi doc

    To DFA Joba is to lose him, which is a mistake. He is a very talented young pitcher who happens to be a head case. He needs some confidence building. He could still be a productive MLB pitcher. If he is still with the team next year, I would not be surprised to see him overcome this dreadful season.

    • mitch

      But he’s not going to be with the team next year, and they can’t afford to let him work through his problems this year. He got pulled with a 4 run lead for Mo after allowing one baserunner. Joe (justifiably) has no faith in him, so he really shouldn’t even be on the roster.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I mean…..what could happen? He signs with another contender and has the month of his life? Really?!?

        If that’s the worst case scenario, and that’s the kind of face they’re afraid of losing, I don’t quite know what to say.

        • RetroRob

          Exactly. I think they held Joba because they just want the option of having the arm and figuerd they could spare not having Claiborne for a couple weeks.

          If they need a spot, though, I can totally see them DFAing Joba. He’s a free agent regadless.

    • JGYank

      He has lost some stuff from his injuries even though it’s still good. Guys are laying his breaking pitches. His fastball can hit 96 but it is pretty straight. He never really had good control. He is simply not as good as he used to be and his stuff is only going to get worse. He is struggling and let’s face it he was a failed experiment. Time to move on.

      • JGYank

        *laying off of

  • mike

    getting another RH bat will only be helpful, especially if Nunez becomes a platoon player as well, either letting someone DH while he fields, or can be a good PR to give an extra dimension with the dinosaurs in the lineup

  • jjyank

    Well I did snag Jeter in my fantasy league since I have an open DL spot and Andrus has been a pretty massive disappointment. So I have two reasons to root for a healthy Jeter :)

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Didn’t you hear? Andrus is a stud.

      • jjyank

        If only AJ Griffin could play SS.


  • Mickey Scheister

    Who would get sent down for Jeter on the 25 man? Nunez? Nix would have to pass through waivers, no? One of the pitchers, Huff?

    • umbrelladoc

      Nix and Huff are out of options. I think of the pitchers, Nova and Warren have options. Nunez has one. They could wait until rosters expand. 10 day rehab stint would not be out of the question.

      • Mickey Scheister

        I think they’ll wait until rosters expand given the uncertain status of Jeters lower half this year.

  • JGYank

    Wow. I just checked Jeter’s 2010-2012 splits against lefties and righties on Espn. It’s a really big split. He mashes lefties and doesn’t hit for power or even for average much against righties. vs. left: .344/.402/.515/.917 vs. right: .273/.330/.345/.675. He has 19 homers against lefties and only 12 against righties. And he has 575 AB against lefthanders and 1,317 AB against righties during that time. We really should make sure all of his off days are against righties because that is awesome line against lefties that we can’t afford to have out of the lineup. No wonder why we struggled against lefties this year.

  • MannyGeee

    The only comment I dont agree with is the ‘rust’ factor. He’s come back twice this year and hit the ground running.

    Hoping for a speedy recovery and a massive boost in the morale of a team already riding high. Playoffs, mutherfucker!

    • RetroRob

      Interesting, my take is the opposite. They rushed him back and since he never had his usual workouts this past Winter, nor a Spring Training, his legs are just not in shape (Jeter shape), which has led to the muscle injuries.

      I know the bar is low so he can hit .250 and be an improvement, but I would still have him rehab through the rest of the month.

      I don’t think we’ll really know what Jeter has to offer moving forward until 2014. I think he’ll still be good, just not the level we saw in 2012.