Jeter's successor is likely not in pinstripes yet
Yankees' shortstop-thin farm system may have club looking elsewhere
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees have been saying for months that they plan on having Derek Jeter as their starting shortstop, so their 2014 blueprint wasn't affected by Wednesday's announcement that this season will be the captain's last.
There was nothing in Jeter's actions to disrupt that. On a day that was anything but normal, Jeter's on-field activity was pretty mundane: taking four rounds of batting practice at the team's Minor League complex, fielding 14 ground balls in the grass and 28 on the dirt.
But it is only natural to wonder, as Jeter looks ahead to a future in which he can "finally stop the chase and take in the world," how the Yankees plan on filling the void some 12 months from now when they open their first Spring Training in two decades without the shortstop.
Stephen Drew is an easy name to toss out, still floating on the free-agent market and in need of a landing spot. He has often been mentioned by outside voices as a fit for the Yanks, particularly if he is willing to play positions other than shortstop.
That speculation hasn't been coming from team officials, who have continued to send smoke signals that the club maxed out its budget with the Masahiro Tanaka signing and will not be adding any more significant names before the beginning of camp.
Drew was given a qualifying offer by the Red Sox, valued at one year and $14.1 million, so any team signing him would have to surrender a Draft pick. That's less of an issue to the Yankees than the fact that their budget has already swelled past $200 million, and they were icy to the idea of Drew even before Tanaka joined the fray.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said this week that despite legitimate question marks at several positions, including all four infield spots, he believes that the Yanks already have the pieces of a winning roster heading to camp.
"Nobody is going to point out more issues than you guys," Steinbrenner said. "In this day and age, the way things are, every team has issues. We just have to work through them. Maybe we don't have the resources down below [at the Minor League level] that we need to deal with some of the issues; maybe we do.
"We'll see what we have in March here. We're going to continue to deal with them every way we can. We certainly have a better team this year, and I'm excited about it. I think we've got a championship-caliber team. We just need to stay healthy. That's going to be key, as it is for any team."
Behind Jeter, Brendan Ryan signed a two-year, $5 million deal with the Yankees in early December, so at least they can count on having the defensive whiz waiting in the wings after Jeter hangs it up. Ryan also offers insurance in case Jeter goes out with another "nightmare" season, but the career .237 hitter doesn't offer anything close to the offensive production that the Yanks are accustomed to receiving when Jeter is healthy.
The Yankees also have Eduardo Nunez competing for a job this spring, though he may see the majority of his playing time as the right-handed-hitting half of a third-base platoon with the lefty-swinging Kelly Johnson. Nunez was developed as a shortstop and had a crack at the everyday job last year, starting 69 games at the position. But he seems to have fallen out of favor somewhat, batting just .260 for the season with three homers, 28 RBIs and a .307 on-base percentage.
For the purposes of 2015, there doesn't appear to be much help coming through the Minor League pipeline; the Yanks didn't have a shortstop listed among their Top 20 Prospects last year, as rated by MLB.com. Addison Maruszak and Cito Culver aren't projected as everyday options in the big leagues.
There's a very real chance that the player who eventually inherits the title of Yankees shortstop from Jeter may not be employed by the organization at this moment. The potential 2015 free-agent class includes shortstops J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins. And for 2014?
"We're open-minded to affordable options that might be available via trade," general manager Brian Cashman said. "But realistically, the answers that we will have are going to come with what's on our current roster here or at [Triple-A] Scranton and develop over the course of Spring Training."