Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Countdown To Irrelevance

So Derek Jeter, after a 2 for 6 night and his first extra base hit in what only feels like forever, is just four hits away from the 3,000 mark. Assuming he doesn't turn back the clock against the Tribe tomorrow with a 4-hit day, it should happen before the break, at home, against Tampa.

And as soon as it does, perhaps the Yankees can go back to doing what's best to win games, and stop pretending he's a leadoff hitter. Hell, he might not even be the second-best shortstop on the roster. (I know, I know, A-Rod can't play short anymore either. Oh, you Yankees, doing it with 70 years of lack of range on the left side of the infield. Don't ever doubt, between the yard and this defense, that this pitching staff earns its money.)

Jeet has no business "hitting" anywhere but ninth in this lineup, especially with a resurgent Brett Gardner and a borderline MVP year from Curtis Granderson carrying the mail for the pinstripes. Your best possible lineup here goes Gardner, Granderson, Teixeira, A-Rod, Cano, Swisher, Martin, the DH platoon, and then Jeet in the pitcher / second leadoff role. But since the Yanks are clearly going to win enough games to make the postseason (you know, like nearly always), and the quest for 3,000 just might be compelling enough to even sell those never-moving seats behind the plate, Jeet goes up front, right from Trenton. The team was better without him while he was gone, but the gate isn't, and one has to assume the ratings are going to tick up when he gets close. At least he's doing his best now to make this quick.

Far be it for me to tell the Yanks how to manage their sunk cost ex-star; he's bound to be a distraction either way at this stage, and it's not as if there is an owner's manual on how to win games and set records. The Astros went down the drain with Craig Biggo's Bataan Death March to 3K, and the Rays helped Wade Boggs limp over the line for absolutely no reason beyond the box office. Frankly, it's rare to have a veteran get over a big number on a very good team, simply because the vet is usually, like Jeet, a below-replacement value player that drags his team down, and front offices that staff their teams with such players usually have other problems.

But the Yanks are the Yanks, and they have also struck gold this year with the odd sock drawer free agent pitching market of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova and others; even the expensive non-Mariano back-end bullpen blowups (ala Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano) haven't hurt them. So Jeet will stagger over the line, hold the leadoff job for a few more days after that to save face, then slowly but surely go to where he's suited. The bottom of the lineup, the bottom of the value, the world's most overpaid shortstop. It won't cost the team many games in July. But the Yankees have never cared this much about July before.

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