This morning Joe Girardi made it clear that Derek Jeter will continue to be the Yankees’ leadoff hitter despite coming off a career-worst season that included a career-low .340 on-base percentage.
Here’s what the manager had to say about leaving Jeter atop the lineup:
We signed him to be our shortstop and we signed him to be our leadoff hitter. And he’s got a pretty good track history of what he’s done in the game of baseball. I’m not really too concerned about him as our leadoff hitter. But as we all know in this game, you have to prove yourself year in and year out, no matter who you are. That’s just the nature of the game, and there’s always people trying to take your job.
Even while posting the worst numbers of his career Jeter’s batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.340), and slugging percentage (.370) were all above average among American League leadoff men, who hit .267/.330/.364 as a group in 2010. In other words, only in a lineup as strong and deep as the Yankees’ is his hitting leadoff really an issue.
Brett Gardner provides the clearest alternative to Jeter. He’s faster and offers far more base-stealing ability than Jeter, and easily topped his OBP last season by a .383 to .340 margin. Of course, Jeter posted a .406 OBP in 2009 while Gardner got on base at a .345 clip, so there’s no guarantee Gardner will be the superior on-base option this season.
When most people talk about batting order changes the focus tends to be on who’s hitting before or after whom, but the biggest impact of moving Jeter from the leadoff spot to, say, the ninth spot, would be far fewer plate appearances. Instead of leading off the game his first trip to the plate would likely come in the second or third inning, and last season the first spot in New York’s lineup batted 786 times compared to the ninth spot batting 632 times. By sticking with Jeter at leadoff Girardi is giving him an extra 100-150 plate appearances.
Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.
Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.
The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.
The Rangers have reportedly agreed to a six-year, $49.5 million extension for second baseman Rougned Odor, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The extension comes with a club option for a seventh year, Heyman adds.
It’s close to the six-year, $52.5 million extension Jason Kipnis netted with the Indians in 2014, a sum Odor was rumored to be seeking during contract negotiations over the last two years. Granted, the circumstances are a little different this time around. Both players signed extensions on the cusp of their fourth year in the major leagues, but at 27 years old, Kipnis was coming off of an All-Star campaign and a career-high 4.5 fWAR performance. Odor, meanwhile, saw mixed results in 2016, batting 33 home runs and putting up 2.0 fWAR while struggling to stay consistent at the plate and exhibiting poor defense.
According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, Odor previously agreed to a $563,180 salary for 2017. Depending on when the extension kicks in, it should cover all three of Odor’s arbitration-eligible seasons and two seasons of potential free agency. The team has yet to confirm the extension.