If Jeter had his way, it would have been him, and not Luis Cruz, starting at shortstop for the team when it took the field against Kansas City on Monday night, as he told ESPN New York's Ian Begley before the team's Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, prepared to take on the Rochester Red Wings:
I'm trying to push to get there today, but I don't think I can make it today. So, it's whenever they say. Really, I don't know what else to say. I'd like to be there now, but I'm not, so as soon as I'm allowed to get up there, I'll get up there.
I feel good. So, whenever they let me get out of here. But I understand I have to play some games, so we'll see. But as soon as I can, I want to go.
Jeter wanting to get back on the field is no surprise to anyone who has followed him over his nearly 20-year major league career.
As tenacious a competitor as you'll find in the game today, it generally takes an act of the baseball gods—or a freak injury, like the fractured ankle he suffered against Detroit in last year's ALCS—to keep him off of the field.
While Yankees manager Joe Girardi wasn't prepared to agree with his captain's assessment that he was ready to return to action when asked by Begley, Girardi didn't rule out Jeter making his 2013 debut against the Minnesota Twins this weekend when asked by MLB.com's Josh Vitale:
"There's always a chance. You just have to see how he does the next three or four days."
It makes sense that the Yankees would want to get Jeter back in the lineup as quickly as possible.
The Yankees have used five different players in place of Jeter at shortstop this season (not counting Robinson Cano's one inning at shortstop against Baltimore on April 13), none of whom have been able to provide much in the way of production:
|Reid Brignac||17||.116||.276||1 (0)||0|
|Luis Cruz||3||.273||.636||1 (0)||2|
|Alberto Gonzalez||5||.294||.647||1 (0)||3|
|Jason Nix||45||.221||.607||9 (2)||13|
|Eduardo Nunez||28||.221||.588||5 (0)||7|
If those numbers aren't terrifying enough for you, consider this: Only two teams in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners, have gotten less production from the shortstop position in 2013 than the Yankees have:
# of SS Used
That's not good, no matter how you want to skew the numbers—and it leaves the Yankees in a bit of a tricky situation.
On one hand, the Yankees know that having Jeter in the lineup gives the team its best chance to win.
Not only is he productive with the bat, but his influence in the dugout and in the clubhouse is also unrivaled in the game—and the ragtag roster the Yankees have rolled with so far would certainly benefit from his presence.
Jeter knows his body better than anyone else, and if he says he's ready to play, chances are he's ready to play.
But at the same time, the Yankees must protect Jeter from himself.
His insatiable desire to compete has led him to incredible success over the course of his career, but the Yankees can ill afford for Jeter to come back too early and suffer another injury, knocking him out of action yet again.
Remember how the life was sucked out of the team when he went down with that broken ankle against Detroit? We'd be witnessing that play out all over again.
That's the last thing anyone wants to see happen.
While it would be a wildly unpopular decision, not only with the fans but also with Jeter himself, the best thing the Yankees can do may be to keep Jeter down on the farm until after the All-Star break has passed.
See how not only his ankle but also his body reacts to playing a full nine innings for three or four days straight, and if Jeter feels nothing but the normal aches and pains you'd expect a 39-year-old shortstop to feel, then great, the captain is ready to go.
If there's more going on than that, then he'll have the extra time during the All-Star break to recover—and the team won't have to worry about having a hobbled Jeter taking up a valuable bench spot.
Having Jeter make his 2013 debut against Boston at Fenway Park on July 19, the team's first game of the season's second half, would make for must-see baseball.
Erring on the side of caution is the only way for the Yankees to proceed with Jeter, who by his absence, has once again proven to be the most irreplaceable piece of the puzzle in the Bronx.