Derek Jeter smiling

Derek Jeter: full time outfielder? Never gonna happen

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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.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.