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Derek Jeter Not Done but Will New York Yankee Captain Ever Be the Same?

All-Star Shortstop Out Until at Least July with Ankle Complications

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Derek Jeter Not Done but Will New York Yankee Captain Ever Be the Same?
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New York Yankee captain Derek Jeter hasn't played since last October because of a broken left ankle.

COMMENTARY | Sometimes it's not good to be right.

It was in mid-November, about a month after New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter broke his ankle during the American League Championship Series and about three months before players were scheduled to report to spring training in Tampa, Fla., when I wrote that it was more important to get a healthy Jeter back than it was to get a hurried Jeter. (I did write this, you can look it up.)

Instead, Jeter stubbornly held to his claim he would be ready for opening day and struggled through a few Grapefruit League games in March before being shut down for the spring.

Last week, it was revealed that Jeter has a small crack in the ankle that could take anywhere from four to eight months to heal.

General manager Brian Cashman said after the latest revelation that there is no timetable for a Jeter return in 2013, but my fifth-grade mathematics skill tells me that four to eight months means July is a best-case scenario, with 2014 looming as an entirely likely worst case.

Given that the 13-time All-Star will be 39 years old on June 26, it's worth entertaining the question of whether or not we've seen the last of Derek Jeter.

I don't think we have, but there are a lot of qualifiers in there.

Jeter led the American League in 2012 with 216 hits and with 3,304 career hits stood at least a remote chance of challenging Pete Rose's all-time record of 4,256. With the injury and the setbacks, that's done now, which could remove some incentive for Jeter to return at all.

Another factor to consider is that Jeter's defense has been declining for awhile. FanGraphs.com's advanced fielding metrics for Jeter do not tell a kind story.

A player's ultimate zone rating/150 measures how many runs a fielder can be expected to save (or surrender) over the course of 150 games. Jeter hasn't had a positive reading since 2009 and has been declining steadily since. His UZR/150 in 2010 was a below-average minus-5.1. In 2011, it dipped to a pretty bad minus-9.2. In 2012 it tumbled to a horrendous minus-15.2.

Mark Belanger, he ain't, but he never was known as a great defensive shortstop, five Gold Gloves be damned. Gold Gloves have appeared to be as much a measure of a player's popularity as they do any realistic notion of how well a player actually plays defense.

So that means Jeter, whenever he is able to return, may have to do what he's resisted on a few occasions already in his career -- change positions. The problem then becomes a question of where do you put him?

Do the Yankees acknowledge that Alex Rodriguez has officially reached the point of being more trouble than his production merits and eat his contract (upsized combo though it may be)? If so, then that could leave an opening at third base, a position Jeter has never played at the major-league level.

Vernon Wells is still locked into a contract for 2014, so left field becomes less of an option. Brett Gardner is a defensive gem in center field, so that might not be feasible. If the Yankees are able to re-sign Robinson Cano, that pretty much wipes second base off the table for the foreseeable future.

The other problem is this: We're not all that certain where else Jeter could play. He has made 2,531 defensive appearances in his career. Of those 2,531 games, 2,531 of them have been at shortstop, which leaves (wait, I'm counting on my fingers here) ... yeah, zero games played at any other position.

Is Derek Jeter athlete enough to change positions at this point in his career? I wouldn't bet against it.

But at the same time, I'm probably not mortgaging the farm to place that wager, either.

Phil Watson is a freelance journalist and commentator based in upper Michigan who covers the New York Yankees for the Yahoo Contributor Network.

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