Coming off a disappointing season in which he batted a career-low .270 with a .340 on-base percentage and a career-worst .307 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and being on the wrong end of his 30s, everybody on the outside started to say the dreaded words Yankee fans have not wanted to hear.
Derek Jeter is done.
Critics and analysts of the game started to wonder with his declining bat speed and the lack of a solid defensive glove whether or not Jeter could continue playing the shortstop position at an adequate level in the majors. This could not have happen at a worse time for Jeter since he became a free agent after his horrid 2010 season. But after some messy negotiations the Yankees and Jeter agreed on a three year deal worth $51 million with an $8 million player option for a fourth year. The critics wondered whether it was a smart decision to commit to Jeter as a shortstop for the next three years seeing how both his bat and glove were eroding with his age, but only time would tell whether it was a smart move.
Can Eduardo Nunez (above) become a reliable candidate to replace Derek Jeter in the future? Only time will tell. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)
And early on in the 2011 season it seemed that time was telling us one thing, Jeter is done. By the end of June Jeter was batting around .260. Every time he stepped up to the plate it seemed as if he was there to play pepper with the infielders as he constantly batter balls into the ground. But after a stint on the DL with a calf injury and after finally getting the 3,000 hit monkey off his back on July 9th Jeter seemed to had turned back the clocks of time.
From July until the end of the season Jeter batted .330 including a .390 mark off left-handed pitching. But it wasn’t only Jeter playing shortstop this past season, Eduardo Nunez emerged as a very talented replacement for the Yankee captain. In 112 games Nunez batted .265 driving in 20 runs and stealing base 22 times. Nunez gave the Yankees not just a guy they can rely on to play shortstop when Jeter needs a day off but also someone that could be considered as the next Yankee shortstop after Jeter is gone.
The problem with Nunez playing shortstop is his fielding. In 50 games as a shortstop in 2011 Nunez had 14 fielding errors. The potential is still there for Nunez since he has a strong arm and solid lateral quickness but he clearly needs to improve on his footwork and knowing how to manage the shortstop position.
As the Yankees prepare to head into the 2012 campaign they will be facing the same questions from last year of whether Jeter, as he continues to creep up in age, can keep playing shortstop at an adequate level and whether Nunez can match his glove with what he can do with his bat. The Yankees will gladly take those “if” questions rather than be questioned of how they will replace an icon in 2012. For now all is well in Yankee land as far as the shortstop position is considered, just remember to check back in mid-July next year.
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