Can The Captain return from a broken ankle injury in the 2012 ALCS to follow up his impressively strong season with another in 2013?
Name: Derek Jeter
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 38 (born 6/26/1974)
Height: 6'3" Weight: 195 lbs.
Remaining Contract: Signed for 3 years, $51 million through 2013, 2014 player option worth $8 million.
2012 Statistics: 159 games, 740 PA, .316/.362/.429, 15 HR, 117 wRC+, .347 wOBA
The Captain's resurgent 2012 season was cut short by a broken ankle suffered during the American League Championship Series after a couple of uncharacteristic (for him) seasons in 2010 and 2011. His status as the Opening Day shortstop in 2013 was in doubt after his surgery, but Jeter is currently on track in his rehab to be back out there when the Yankees take the field for the first time in April.
It's difficult to say things about Jeter that haven't been said a million times already in his long career as the Yankees' shortstop. When he finally decides that his playing days are over, he will not only go down as one of the best to wear the pinstripes, but one of the best major leaguers of all time. This upcoming season is the last guaranteed year of his latest contract, but if he is able to continue playing at the level he did a year ago, there is no reason to believe that he won't at least exercise his player option for 2014. Beyond that, the future is a bit murky. The last time the front office and Jeter attempted to negotiate a new deal, things got embarrassingly ugly. No one wants to see that again. With the new Yankee budget, how much over market value will they be willing to pay a 40-year-old shortstop who happens to be the face of their franchise? More than he's worth in a technical sense, to be sure, but will it be enough to keep him happy until he decides he's ready to hang 'em up?
Offensively among American League shortstops in 2012, Jeter was second in wRC+, 4th in WAR at 3.2, and easily first in hits with 216; a category in which he led the entirety of baseball. If that is the player the Yankees once again have at the plate in 2013, they will be extremely fortunate to be getting that production out of their aging shortstop. Defense is obviously another matter entirely. Jeter's range leaves a lot to be desired, though he will always be solid on things hit right at him, and returning from ankle surgery isn't going to make getting a glove on all those balls hit to his left any easier than it has been in the past. It really boils down to whether or not Jeter's production at the plate can offset his disappointing defense. As long as it feels like a net positive, the Yankees have no reason to move him from shortstop. There is certainly no shortstop of the future banging on the door or even in the neighborhood, honestly. In terms of dWAR, Jeter posted his third worst ranking of his career, and it might be reasonable to expect the same or worse from him coming off a surgery to an extremely vital joint in terms of mobility. With no other options aside from Error-prone Eduardo, it won't matter.
Knowing what is reasonable to expect from Jeter in 2013 is a little difficult to predict. He'll be a year older, turning 39 roughly halfway through the season. He'll be coming back from ankle surgery, which may not be 100% right from the start, and may limit his mobility in the field even more than we are used to. We all hope that he will be the offensive player he was when he led the league in hits last season, but for all we know, he could revert to the player he was the prior two seasons. We just don't know. Jeter has defied expectations before, and he certainly exceeded them easily last year. Hopefully it's more of the same in 2013.