(Oh so smoove. Courtesy of the AP)
I have a confession to make. I think I've got a little man crush on Brendan Ryan. He's only been a Yankee for 11 games, but in those 11 games he's convinced me that he should absolutely be on the roster as the backup shortstop and de facto utility infielder next season. It makes too much sense for him not to be on the roster. He's exactly what the Yankees need at the position and a clear upgrade over any and everything they trotted out there this year in their lame attempt to cover for Derek Jeter's ankle.
By now everybody knows Ryan is a defensive whiz, and if you still don't then you must have not watched any of this past weekend's games. Dude was everywhere on Saturday - including the second base side of second base multiple times - making plays to help Ivan Nova cruise to his second complete game shutout of the season, and he was right back at it on Sunday in support of Andy Pettitte's outstanding start. Quite simply, if you watched those games and think Nova and Petitte would have had the final lines they had with anybody other than Ryan playing shortstop, you're wrong. He was that good.
And if there's something the Yankees need, after a couple of starting pitchers, a third baseman, a starting catcher, an offensively-competent right fielder, maybe a second baseman, and some bullpen depth, it's a glove man at short. They haven't had one in years since Jeter's range really started to go south, and at this point I think it's safe to say that the Eduardos Nunez and Jaysons Nix of the world aren't the answer. Ryan has shown himself to be that glove man and then some in his 11 games in pinstripes, to the tune of 40 infield assists or a 3.63 A/G average. That's inflated a bit because of the last 2 games, but Ryan's career A/G at shortstop still stands at a healthy 2.97. For the sake of comparison, Jeter's career A/G at short is 2.496 and he hasn't posted a rate above 2.5 since 2007.
Obviously there's a lot not being accounted for in those basic counting stats, like where balls were hit, how hard they were hit, who was running the bases, etc. But the difference in assists supports the already accepted and statistically-proven points of Ryan being an elite defensive shortstop and having much better range than Jeter. It also provides another point of comparison when looking at what the Yankees are giving up defensively with Jeter at short. Over the course of a 162-game season, Ryan would outassist Jeter 481.14 to 404.35 based on their respective career averages. That's almost 80 more plays being made in the field, 80 more outs that would not have been recorded with Jeter at short, and who knows how many runs saved in the process. The Yankee rotation is expected to be very weak next year. They can use all the help they can get on the infield, and Ryan, a returning Mark Teixeira, and a hopefully re-signed Robbie Cano gives them a tremendously strong defensive infield regardless of who's playing third.
And don't even try to bring up the "but Brendan Ryan can't hit at all" argument as a way to keep Nunez and Nix in the discussion. Those guys can't hit either, at least not well enough to make them more valuable than Ryan or to justify playing them over him. Cash traded for Ryan in the first place because he finally concluded that Nunez wasn't the answer at short and that's a fact. To his credit, Ryan has swung a decent bat since becoming a Yankee. His .270/.308/.405 line in 39 PA has been a pleasant surprise, and even if it's not sustainable long term it's not out of the question to think Ryan could outperform his .238/.300/.321 career slash line (.279 wOBA) in limited ABs.
If you're still not convinced, dig on this. In 11 games and 39 PA as a Yankee, Ryan has already out-WAR'd what Nunez and Nix did in 611 combined PA, 0.4 fWAR to -0.9 fWAR. He's done that on the strength of what appears to be some SSS-aided offensive overperformance but also on the strength of his stellar defensive play. Brendan Ryan can flat out play some shortstop and he's the only person on the 40-man roster right now who can say that. He's not much with the stick, but he shouldn't have to be as a bench player and if he gets forced into regular duty the downgrade from Jeter to him offensively should be covered by the rest of what's hopefully not another injury-ravaged lineup. Ryan would be a great security blanket for the rotation and a great safety net for Jeter and his ankle. If Cash hasn't drafted up an offer already, he needs to get on it.