Derek Jeter is going on the disabled list, "effectively" ending his season in the words of New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman (as first reported by Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News). Ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson said that Jeter's ankle still needs to be strengthened, and with the regular season coming to a close, the opportunity for Jeter to take more rest and rehab and come back again this year just isn't there. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reports Cashman as stating what is now the obvious: "This was a much more difficult rehabilitation situation than we ever expected."
The Yankees' acquisition of Mariners glove-man Brendan Ryan on Tuesday now takes on added importance to their fading postseason hopes. With Jeter unable to play an effective shortstop even when he was ostensibly healthy and the steady-but-unspectacular (and light-hitting) Jayson Nix out for the year with a fractured left hand, the Yankees' options at shortstop were pretty much down to Eduardo Nunez. "Nunie," who made his 12th error of the season on Tuesday night, is the rare bat-first infielder who can neither hit nor field. Nunez has hit .257/.311/.356 on the season, and while he has been better since a long disabled list stint to heal an oblique strain, hitting .283/.321/.393 over 50 games, (A) that's still not much, (B) comes with a career .940 fielding percentage at short, and (C) doesn't involve great range to compensate for his butterfingers tendencies.
Boiling it down, Nunez is basically the young, healthy version of a crippled 39-year-old Derek Jeter, except perhaps not quite as good on defense. He doesn't get to a lot, but unlike Jeter, who was never the rangiest shortstop but made few mistakes, Nunez is unreliable. Ryan will almost certainly not hit even as well as Nunez's post-DL .714 OPS (he's hit .193/.268/.273 since 2011), but at least he'll be the first defensively qualified shortstop the Yankees have had in a decade or so. Their pitchers will look that much better in the process -- for the few games that are remaining in the season.
For anyone who has followed the Yankees during Jeter's long career, or has simply appreciated his excellence for afar, this has been a depressing season. While the Yankees needed to learn that a going-on-40-year-old couldn't play a quality shortstop (and even if healthy, Jeter wouldn't have been able give them that given he hadn't done so at 36, 37, and so on), it is always distressing to see the great ones decline before your eyes. It is very possible that Jeter's ankle injury has finished him in the same way that previous Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville's ankle injury finished him (a possibility I explored here as well as earlier here).
When Royals great George Brett was asked how he knew it was time to retire, he talked about playing with Harmon Killebrew at the end of that great's career in 1975. He said that it took two hits or a triple to score Killebrew from second base in those days, and he never wanted to embarrass himself that way. In recent days we have also seen countless references to Joe DiMaggio's 1951 retirement and Willie Mays "falling down" in the outfield in the 1973 World Series. The common theme to all these pieces is not so much wishing Jeter would go away, like an 85-year-old Bob Hope doing yet another TV special about 40 years after he was last funny, but that he would spare us having to go watch the Old Timer's Day version of Jeter as an active player. That would hurt, like watching Fred Astaire fall down or Mariano Rivera blow too many saves. No one needs to see that.
In the short term, Jeter is gone, and Ryan represents New York's last chance to make something of this season. In the long term, Jeter has a player option for next year. Should he exercise it, the Yankees will have to do this dance all over again, at least if they're smart enough not to avert it by acquiring a regular shortstop and insisting that Jeter will be a designated hitter at best -- a position his bat would be inadequate to carry. Even should his ankle heal completely over the offseason, there is no chance he will be able to play the position at a championship level next year. In short, they're left with no good options unless Jeter chooses to spare them the dilemma of having to put up with his refusal to go gently into that good night.
May he take a cue from DiMaggio and not overstay his welcome.