There are two looming issues that seem poised to hound the Yankees over the next few seasons. The first is the gaping hole in Center Field, something that has been an issue for the last two seasons and will continue to trouble the Yankees until Austin Jackson proves that he can handle New York’s most storied position. The second is the Derek Jeter situation, in which the living legend has shown signs of offensive decline. If he loses a significant portion of his offensive production, it would be much harder to justify keeping him at shortstop, considering his below average defensive play. Being that Derek is a free agent after 2010, this issue will come to a head sooner rather than later.
There is one creative solution that could solve both of these problems: start grooming Jeter for a move to Center Field. I’ll let Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus, writing for ESPN.com, explain:
Clay Davenport’s new play-by-play metric that debuts in this year’s edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual says Jeter’s work with leather cost the Yankees 18 runs in 2007, and another 12 in 2008. John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system from the Bill James Handbook rates Jeter the worst shortstop in total Plus/Minus of the last three years……..
Crying over last year’s spilled Melky won’t help you catch up to the Rays and Red Sox, but signing Orlando Cabrera would provide the team with a useful-enough hitter and a slick-fielding asset at short could make a small but important difference to a bad defensive ballclub. Last season’s Yankees ranked 25th in the major leagues in Defensive Efficiency (their ability to convert balls in play into outs) and Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and no positions see more chances than the middle infield. For all his defensive warts, Jeter has a strong arm and has always earned praise for his ability to track bloopers and pop-ups. These skills should both translate in center field. And simply by providing his usual dose of high OBP, he’d be a much better option than running Melky Cabrera out to center for 117 games, which the Yankees did last year.
If you read the full article, Kahrl makes a compelling case for such a move. It is likely that the increased offensive value of having Orlando rather than Melky in the lineup + the increased defense at short > the lost defensive value in the outfield. However, I think there are a few problems with this solution. Firstly, the Yankees will need to spend more money to land Orlando Cabrera, something that they suddenly seem loathe to do. Additionally, I doubt Derek would be willing to move, as he certainly enjoys his legacy as a great Yankee shortstop and probably would be afraid of being embarrassed in the outfield. Of course, Hall of Famer Robin Yount made a similar move, and his legacy did not suffer in the transition.
One other thing that needs to be considered is the Yankees ability to replace Jeter at short. While the Yankees have a top prospect coming soon to try his hand in CF, they are notoriously thin in the middle infield in the upper parts of their minor leagues. Cabrera is not a long-term fix, meaning the strategy would eventually depend on something external, like a trade or the Brewers not inking JJ Hardy to a long term deal.
Ultimately, I think that the Yankees are probably stuck with Jeter at shortstop for the foreseeable future. While moving him to CF may make sense in the short term, long term and personal considerations as well as a lack of viable replacements probably render this whole debate an academic exercise. Derek is going to be the shortstop of the Yankees, and we might as well get used to those balls up the middle, past a diving Jeter.
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