1:10 pm Oct. 18, 2012
The news that Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in the 12th inning of A.L.C.S. Game 1 Saturday night, would require surgery wasn't altogether surprising.
However, the recovery time cited by the team—4-5 months—essentially underscores something the New York Yankees now need to do, and didn't this past season: make sure they have a viable understudy to Jeter at shortstop.
If Jeter has the surgery on Saturday, as scheduled, a four-month recovery time would take him to February 20, or just after spring training begins. A five-month recovery would take him to March 20, or near the end of spring training. And any setbacks would put the start of the season in jeopardy.
This also means the Yankees will be counting on a starting shortstop next year who is not only turning 39 in June, but who will be returning from a significant surgical procedure.
This is not to assume that Jeter cannot recover; he's defied practically every age curve for his position that exists.
But the fact that Jeter has done so to date is simply not a good reason to enter 2013 without a viable backup plan, which is something the Yankees essentially did in 2012.
This season, four players have spent time at shortstop for the Yankees: Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix and Ramiro Pena. Of the non-Jeter options, Nunez has proven himself incapable of handling the position defensively. Nix is a career 75 O.P.S.+ hitter with 35 career games at the position; he's almost certainly inadequate to the task in every way. And Pena, with his career major league O.P.S.+ of 46, and .653 O.P.S. this year in Triple-A, simply isn't a minimally competent major league hitter, though he's got a swell glove.
This didn't affect the Yankees much in 2012, at least until the A.L.C.S., because Jeter incredibly played 159 games, including 135 starts at shortstop. Assuming he will do so again, a year older and recovering from ankle surgery, simply isn't an option.
Contrast the cast of characters who served as Jeter's backups with Rafael Soriano, who replaced the iconic Mariano Rivera in 2012, and posted a spectacular season as closer. Keeping such vets around while they remain productive makes sense; failing to prepare for their greater capacity to drop precipitously, or get hurt, does not.
The shortstops on the free agent market are not an inspiring bunch; for instance, Ronny Cedeno and his career O.P.S.+ of 71 might be the best of the bunch. So the Yankees might be forced to turn to the trade market instead.
Though that will mean giving up some significant parts for a potential backup shortstop, this isn't the worst idea for the Yankees, who really need someone credible to serve as heir apparent at the position, anyway. There's no obvious answer in the minor leagues to do so, and a player of Jeter's age, let alone age and now injury problem, needs a succession plan for the long-term, not just a fallback for 2013.
Accordingly, the Yankees would not be doing their due diligence if they don't, in the course of talking to the Marlins about Alex Rodriguez, ask what it would take to bring Jose Reyes to The Bronx.
That may seem extreme, but Jeter's injury and age ought to have the team thinking big about what comes next. His Yankee legacy may be eternal, but his playing career most definitely isn't.