Let me preface this by saying I seriously doubt this will actually happen, but just as a thought experiment, it might be a better option for the team than trading a bundle to add Brandon Phillips, or running Kelly Johnson out there.
Jeter’s defense at shortstop has been subject of criticism for years, especially from those using statistics for baseball analytics. He turns 40 next summer, an age when even excellent defensive players have lost a step, if not two. And while injuries wiped out most of his 2013 season, his defensive numbers suggest further deterioration. Moving to 2B would lessen the relative damage his glove does at short, while keeping his bat in the lineup.
And it turns out the Yankees already have Brendan Ryan on their roster. Not only is Ryan younger, but he’s basically an anti-Jeter: his value comes almost entirely from defense, as he’s been a terrible offensive player. His bat is as bad as Jeter’s glove, but his glove is about as good as Jeter’s bat.
Here’s the Fangraphs value numbers for the last three years:
|Brendan Ryan||Derek Jeter|
Okay, Ryan’s offense is much worse than Jeter’s defense relative to league average. But then his defense is also a lot better than Jeter’s offense at this point, and in aggregate the two players are surprisingly close. Yes, Jeter missed almost all of 2013 (and Ryan played only 104 games himself).
According to Baseball-Reference, which weights defense more heavily, Ryan has been much better than Jeter overall:
|Brendan Ryan||Derek Jeter|
Baseball-Reference gives Ryan a big aggregate edge, ranking Jeter as little more than a replacement player. Fangraphs gives a smaller edge to Jeter. So while it seems like heresy to say so, there’s a decent case that Ryan has been as valuable at this point as the now aging Yankee captain.
If you could put Jeter at 2B, then you’re not giving up much (if anything) in overall value at short, and you’re plugging the hole created by Robinson Cano’s departure. And while Jeter may not be a good defensive shortstop, his skills at this age could well make him much better, in a relative sense, at second. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference give about a 5 run positional adjustment for playing 2B relative to SS, so by moving to second, Jeter’s value goes up about a half a win right there. Often players who move to a less demanding defensive position see a boost in offense, which might further boost his value.
You could appeal to his pride by asking him to move for the good of the team, saying that without Cano any more, the Yankees need a strong player at 2B, and he’s got the best skillset to adapt to the role. Maybe he’d balk, but maybe he’d relish the challenge, and thrive in the new role.
Sure, there are risks here, too. Perhaps the adjustment doesn’t go smoothly, and Jeter’s offense sags while his defense might still be poor at the new position.
Or maybe arbitrator Fredric Horowitz upholds Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension, giving the Yankees a big hole at third to fill. Jeter could shift there instead. But in rough terms, the Yankees already have another player whose overall value is probably about the same as Jeter’s, but who plays the same position. If Jeter moved to 2B or 3B, they’d be able to play both at the same time.
No, it probably won’t happen. And even if the Yankees suggest it, they wouldn’t want to admit it unless Jeter accepted the idea. No point in potentially ruffling his feathers for what may be his own farewell tour.