Derek Jeter cleared for rehab games (Update)

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees captain thinks he's ready to go after running in drills.

UPDATE: Jeter is good to go, and Brian Cashman didn't even have to tell anyone to STFU:

So Jeter will finally test his ankle and his 39-year-old's range at shortstop. All the issues discussed below still obtain -- the Yankees have gotten little offensive production out of their shortstops this year, and Jeter should be able to top them even if he's half the player he was. The real question is his ability to play defense.

Via the New York Daily News:

"I'm anxious to be playing in games," Derek Jeter said. "Everything I've needed to do up until that point, I've done... I think I'm close."

Having broken his ankle during the 2012 postseason, then re-injuring during rehabilitation, the 3000-hit shortstop has missed the entire season. In his absence, the Yankees have suffered at shortstop, getting aggregate rates of .201/.267/.276 from a crew that has included Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and now ex-Dodgers infielder Luis Cruz. Only the Mariners, with Brendan Ryan, have received worse production at short among junior-circuit ballclubs, and they recently made the switch from Ryan to prospect Brad Miller, a career .334/.409/.516 hitter in 219 minor-league games.

Should Jeter make it all the way back, he will almost certainly be an offensive upgrade over Nix and company, even if his hitting is far below his career marks, but:
  • He's 39 and his lateral movement wasn't great before the ankle injury.
  • Historically, only a handful of players of that age or older have been asked to play shortstop regularly at his age because most 39-year-olds are not capable of fielding the position at an acceptable level.
  • The Yankees have been surviving on their pitching and the last thing the team needs to do is undermine their defense by putting a human end table at short.

That said, the Yankees infield has been on the porous side already: only the Tigers have allowed a higher batting average on ground balls than the Yankees' .261. Compare that to their AL East rivals: Baltimore leads the league at .216, the Rays are third at .226, the Red Sox are sixth at .236, and the Blue Jays are 10th at .247. That's not all on the shortstops, but they haven't been good -- Nunez is an error machine; Nix is merely steady. Ironically, "merely steady" is probably more than we'll be able to say of Jeter at this point.

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Whether Jeter will be a net positive at that point will depend on the interplay of his offense and defense -- a grounder past a stationary shortstop is just a single, after all, and if the shortstop hits enough doubles and home runs his team will be more than even. We can also wonder about the interplay of all the gloves in the field -- if you add a slow shortstop to a third baseman with no hips (Alex Rodriguez) and a first baseman whose best defensive days are behind him (Lyle Overbay), at what point do you achieve a kind of critical mass where the pitchers have a right to revolt?

We'll get some sense of Jeter's defensive abilities as soon as he's cleared to play in actual games. You'll hear more about how many hits he's getting, but the real proof will be in whether his first step, which was always more of a thoughtful, high-effort trudge after balls to his left, is now something you can time with a sundial.

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