(Ouch, bro. Very ouch. Courtesy of the AP)
The news wasn't surprising, given the fact that the estimated recovery time from his surgery was going to put him right up against the start of the regular season at the latest, but that doesn't make Joe Girardi's comments about Derek Jeter possibly missing the start of the 2013 season any better. Dan Martin of The Post had the story yesterday, with Joe saying:
“He’s still basically non-weight-bearing, I believe, so, I really believe it might be a little push,”
when asked about Jeter's status. Jeter is still just a few weeks removed from surgery to repair his broken ankle, and while it's still very early in the recovery process, if there are already doubts about Jeter's availability for Spring Training and the season opener then it might be time for the Yankees to start putting together their contingency plan. As I discussed weeks back, Jeter being out would impact more than just the shortstop position and create added stress on what is already a somewhat inflexible roster.
The Yankees aren't without backup options at short. They have Eduardo Nunez, who is a good hitter, or at least a more versatile offensive player than the other option, the more defensively strong Jayson Nix. The Yankees had expressed a desire to find an upgrade over Nix, and that desire has to increase now with this news on Jeter, but so far they've been slow to act this offseason. The free agent replacement options at shortstop are few, and after Nunez and Nix there aren't any solid internal options in the Minors who could step in if needed. If the Yanks do think they need an upgrade, and one that can be an effective everyday player to fill in for Jeter at the start of the season, it's probably time for them to start actively looking for a deal.
Then there's the issue of how to handle Jeter once the season does start. Whenever he comes back, he's going to have his playing time limited early on. A-Rod is going to be in the same boat, so the DH carousel/rest day/lineup switching that prevailed in 2012 is going to be a common theme again in 2013. Whether they are handling the Jeter replacement role full time or not, Nunez and Nix are going to be used and they're going to have to produce. And with the core of the lineup another year older, flexibility is going to be an issue again.
There's still no cause for panic, but it's beginning to look like Jeter is not going to be on the field come Opening Day next season. He's been a staple at shortstop and a lock at the top of the batting order for over a decade, and it will be strange to not see him out there. But the most important thing for a player his age and with his limitations is to be 100% healthy, and the Yankees need to make sure that's the case before they let him back on the field. Joe's comment of "but I think he’ll find a way, because that’s who he is," is actually more of a concern to me than the injury itself. There's no need to rush Jeter back or to let him rush himself back just to get on the field. If it turns out he can't go on April 1st, then so be it.