Derek Jeter's nightmare season is over. On Wednesday, the Yankees announced that they were placing their 39-year-old shortstop and team captain on the disabled list for the fourth time this year due to continued problems with the surgically repaired left ankle he broke in last year's American League Championship Series. According to New York general manager Brian Cashman, the move "effectively end[s] his season."
Jeter wound up playing in just 17 games and hitting .190/.288/.254 with one homer in 73 plate appearances, a shocking lack of playing time given that he had averaged 151 games a year from 1996 to 2012 and had served only one stint on the DL over those last nine seasons. After suffering a setback with his ankle late in spring training, he didn't make his 2013 regular season debut until July 11, and couldn't even make it through his first game without suffering another injury; a strained right quad sustained during his third plate appearance sent him back to the DL until July 28. He homered off the Rays' Matt Moore in his first plate appearance upon returning from that injury but made it through just four games before a right calf strain suffered on Aug. 2 knocked him out.
Jeter returned once more on Aug. 26 and played in 12 straight games, but he left Saturday's loss to the Red Sox in the sixth inning due to ankle soreness. He underwent a CT scan, and while the results were negative (no fracture), a second evaluation from Dr. Robert Anderson led the Yankees to put him on the shelf again. Via MLB.com's Bryan Hoch, Anderson told Jeter on Tuesday that resting for a week or 10 days wouldn't be long enough to heal the weakness in his ankle.
Thus Jeter joins Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Jayson Nix on the list of key Yankees position players who are done for the year. Despite that, at 77-68, New York still has a fighting chance for a wild-card spot. It is two games behind the Rays for the second slot, but with the Indians, Orioles and Royals also within 2 1/2 games, the Yankees' chances are just 8.2 percent according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds report.
That's not nothing, so on Tuesday night, in anticipation of this announcement, Cashman acquired shortstop Brendan Ryan from the Mariners for a player to be named later. The 31-year-old Ryan is the anti-Jeter, a terrible hitter (.192/.254/.265 in 287 PA this year, .238/.300/.320 in his seven-year career) who has a reputation as an absolute glove whiz. From 2009-2012, his time as a regular shortstop, he was 89 runs above average at short according to Defensive Runs Saved and 44 above average according to Ultimate Zone Rating. By comparison, Jeter was 39 runs below average in that span according to DRS and 19 below average according to UZR — and that was one of his better stretches. Last month, Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh put together a great visual presentation of the two shortstops' recent (2011-2012) work afield, showing how much further to either side Ryan can range, and how few balls get by him relative to Jeter.
Balancing out offense and defense using B-Ref's version of Wins Above Replacement (which uses DRS for defense), Ryan was actually more valuable than Jeter in that four-year span, 13.9 to 11.5, though his own defensive numbers are down this year (+3 DRS, +1 UZR) as he lost playing time in Seattle to rookie Brad Miller. Ryan's 0.0 WAR is still more valuable than what the Yanks have gotten from Eduardo Nunez (-2.0) or Jeter (-0.7), all of which is to say that he could be a slight help, though it appears that he's likely to share time with Nunez rather than supplant him. Ryan won't be eligible for the postseason because he was acquired after the Aug. 31 waiver deadline, but that's the least of New York's problems right now.
Jeter holds a $9.5 million player option (and a $3 million buyout) for 2014, a significant pay cut from this year's $17 million but not exactly money to sneeze at. Had he played anywhere near as well this year as last year, when he racked up a league-high 216 hits while batting .316/.362/.429 with 15 homers, he'd have been in a position to work out another multi-year extension in place of that option, but he lacks that leverage now. What's clear is that he has no intention of retiring because of this latest setback. "There's a lot of 'end' talk here, man. You guys want this to be the end for me?" he asked reporters at Wednesday's press conference, according to the Newar Star-Ledger's Andy McCulloch. Via Hoch, he explained, "You don't start thinking about the end just because you have an injury."
Neither Cashman nor manager Joe Girardi believe they've seen the end of Jeter. "I have not watched his last game. No one has," said the GM. "There are no guarantees in life, but I think he's going to do everything he can to get back," said Girardi. Jeter's single on Saturday, the 3,316th hit of his career, pushed him past Eddie Collins and into sole possession of 10th place on the all-time list. He'll have to wait until next year to pass Paul Molitor (3,319), Carl Yastrzemski (3,419) and others, and in the meantime, he can only watch his teammates battle for a playoff spot. "I'll be carrying the pom-poms," he told reporters. That's a surreal scene to envision, albeit no more surreal than the rest of Jeter's season.