This morning, at Brian Cashman’s little press availability, the Yankees general manager said that he envisioned Derek Jeter moving off shortstop and into the outfield before his new contract is up after the 2014 season.
It’s not a ridiculous thing to say at this point in time because (a) Jeter is unlikely to be able to stick at shortstop forever and no one would buy it if Cashman said he could; and (b) it’s not like Cashman can say today that Jeter’s going to be released when he can’t handle short anymore.
He also can’t say that Jeter is going to DH, because that would probably cause Jeter’s 2011 ego to be bruised. He can’t say Jeter’s going to third because A-Rod is still there and doing so would imply that A-Rod is the DH, which would cause A-Rod’s 2011 ego to be bruised. From a public relations perspective at least saying — on this day — that the outfield is in Jeter’s future is probably the only option Cashman had.
But can it actually be done? Can Derek Jeter make the move from shortstop to a full time job in the outfield?
I’ll say this much: Jeter has become a substandard defensive shortstop, but he is still very good — at least to my naked eye — at getting popups and flies to shallow center or left field. I don’t know if any defensive metric bears this out — he may suck at it actually — but he at least appears very comfortable doing it. He doesn’t do all kinds of quick shuffle steps like he’s afraid of falling off a cliff. He seems to glide to those kinds of balls relatively effortlessly. That, combined with what seems like what is still a pretty good arm means that we can at least begin the conversation of him being an outfielder.
But let’s be clear about something: if Derek Jeter becomes a regular outfielder, it will be a move that is unprecedented in baseball history. Derek Jeter is entering his age 37 season. Between 1901 and 2010, there have been:
- Exactly 16 players who have played as many as 100 games at shortstop and 100 games in left field. None of them did both after the age of 35;
- Exactly 17 players who have played as many as 100 games at shortstop and 100 games in center field. None of them did both after the age of 35;
- Exactly 17 players who have played as many as 100 games at shortstop and 100 games in right field. None of them did both after the age of 35.
Maybe Jeter could be a utility guy who can cover the outfield from time to time, but there is no precedent whatsoever for a guy his age moving from the everyday shortstop position to an everyday position in the outfield. And no, Robin Yount — everyone’s favorite go-to guy on this subject — didn’t do it either. His last game at shortstop came when he was 28. Past the age of 30 he was an outfielder/DH with some occasional starts at first.
And that’s before you factor in Jeter’s bat, which unless he bounces back to 2009 form and stays there for the next four years, will not be stout enough to justify a position in the outfield.
Nice try Cashman, but I’m not buying what you’re selling. Jeter will be the shortstop until that’s no longer tenable, but after that he has time at third base, first base, DH, the bench or the unemployment line in his future. To say otherwise is to predict that history will be made. And that’s not a safe thing to do even with a ballplayer as spectacular as Derek Jeter.