On-Base Perception

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Yankees have a shortstop conundrum

Derek Jeter strikes out in the first inning

Derek Jeter strikes out in the first inning of a Game 5 of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. (Oct. 12, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

For the first time in nearly two decades the Yankees have a serious shortstop problem.

Franchise icon Derek Jeter was re-signed to a one-year, $12 million deal Friday afternoon. Even without that move (more a superficial tactic made for luxury tax purposes) Jeter would have likely remained a Yankee in 2014 since he possessed a $9.5 million player option.

But Jeter appeared in just 17 games in 2013, getting only 73 plate appearances after suffering a variety of ailments. Offseason surgery for a broken ankle and a lengthy recovery process delayed his season debut until July 11, 15 days after his 39th birthday.

Jeter is one of eight players in baseball history to start at least 50 percent of their games at shortstop at age 38 or older and play in 17 games or less.

four never played again.

The other three?

- George McBride: After playing in just 15 games for the Senators in 1919, his age 38 season, he played in 13 during the 1920 season. He did appear at short during each of those 1920 games, but it was his final season in the majors.

- Bobby Wallace: Wallace only managed nine games for the Browns in 1915, his age 41 season, and did play three more seasons with the Browns and Cardinals. But those three seasons totaled 54 games played, including just 17 more appearances at short.

- Hughie Jennings: Jennings only appeared in one game with the Tigers during the 1907 season, when he was 38. He played four more seasons – 1909, 1910, 1912 and 1918 – accumulating six more total games and nine more plate appearances. He never played shortstop during any of those final four “seasons.”

Notice a common trait? Each of these examples is almost a century old. Jeter has certainly bucked trends before, but coming back from a lost 2013 at his age, at the demanding position of shortstop would even be an astonishing feat for him.

And the Yankees, after missing the playoffs in 2013, are in no position to allow an important defensive position and precious lineup spot to be occupied by a subpar player.

The Jeter question is further complicated by this: There are solid replacements for him on the free agent market:

- Stephen Drew: He just won a championship with the Red Sox, a pedigree that can’t hurt if he makes the transition to New York. Drew is a lefty swinger with a .264 career average and .329 on-base percentage. He’s hit double-digit home runs in five of the past seven seasons. Injuries have hindered him some, but he played in 124 games last season and appears healthy. He’s known for being an excellent defensive player, which should help the Yankees pitching staff as an added bonus. He turns 31 on March 16.

- Jhonny Peralta: Peralta is durable, having appeared in at least 151 games from 2005-2012. He likely would have reached the mark again last season with the Tigers but was suspended 50 games for his involvement with Biogenesis. A .268 career hitter with a .330 OBP, Peralta batted .303 with a .358 OBP last season. He’s a career .283 postseason hitter with eight home runs in 45 games. He turns 32 on May 28.

The Yankees don’t have a seemingly “good” primary option: They can either supplant a franchise star or ride out another season with a defensive liability who’s an injury risk. There’s a third option, which involves signing a backup middle infielder like Brendan Ryan – bad bat, great glove – as “Jeter insurance.” But in the event of an emergency that causes manager Joe Girardi to actually have to break that glass, the Yankees may have wished they were more proactive.

Tags: Derek Jeter , Stephen Drew , Yankees , Jhonny Peralta

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