At least not in the regular season. The playoffs are a different matter.
The Yankees won again last night as they beat Milwaukee for the second straight time. They continue to roll along with the best record in the American League and have a 2 1/2 game lead over the Red Sox in the division. What is amazing about the Yankees season so far is they can’t beat the Red Sox head to head, yet still lead them in the standings. The division would be practically locked up if they had managed to beat the Sox a few times.
Absent for the Yankees during all this winning is the Captain. Ever since Jeter went on the DL, the Yankees are 11-3, so obviously they do not miss him much. Eduardo Nunez has done a decent job filling in for him at short, even though he still struggles to make the routine play. Gardner and Granderson have become a lethal combination at the top of the order.
The question is will Joe Girardi keep Gardner and Granderson in the top of the order when Jeter returns from the DL sometime next week? If it is based on performance and what is best for the team, they should stay where they are and Jeter should bat 9th. Jeter is a .260 hitter this season and is not close to being the offensive player he once was.
I am not saying the Yankees should just kick Jeter to the curb, but he is no longer good enough to be at the top of the order. I do not think Girardi will do it, especially with Jeter still chasing 3,000 hits. However, once that milestone is achieved, if Jeter continues to struggle and the Yankees begin to lose games, they could make the change for good. If Jeter is the team guy everyone has made him out to be the past 16 years, he will accept it because it is best for the team.
The Yankees still need Derek Jeter, but in the regular season he does not make a big difference for them. The team is so stacked everywhere else in the lineup and with Gardner getting the job done in the leadoff spot, Jeter has not been missed. Some could even argue that Eduardo Nunez, although not as good defensively as Jeter, is just as good of an offensive player right now.
Jeter’s true value for the Yankees is in October. His 5 championships, leadership, and clutchness are so valuable for the team in the post season. Despite his most recent struggles at the plate, who else would a Yankee fan want up at the plate in a big spot in the post season? Jeter would still be on the top of that list.
Until Jeter shows he can’t get the job done in the post season, he will always maintain his elite value with the Yankees. The regular season is practice for the Yankees as we know they are going to make the playoffs. Since 1995 they have made the playoffs every year except one (2008). The Yankees are about the post season and Derek Jeter is who he is because of the post season. In the regular season Jeter is still a great player, but it is the post season that has given him the status which he continues to hold. He is not Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, or Mantle, but Yankee fans put him with those guys because of his achievements in October.
By Rob Bonanni