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YORK -- It may be a little early to even begin the conversation, but if the regular season ends for the Yankees the way it's transpiring right now, Derek Jeter should be given heavy consideration by voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America as Most Valuable Player of the American League.
Jeter, the Yankees' All-Star shortstop and captain, is having a great season on the field. Coupled with his off-field leadership, he embodies the spirit of that award. Jeter's work ethic and day-to-day play not only make him the MVP of a team that is currently running away with the AL East, but the MVP of the entire league.
"All the things he's done for the Yankees over the years he's doing this year, for sure," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, voicing an objective opinion from the opposing dugout before his club lost a 5-3 decision on Saturday. "There's obviously an incredible leadership he brings in the things he does day in and day out. His numbers speak for themselves. He's a Hall of Fame player."
To be sure, Scioscia has his own pair of highly regarded candidates in outfielder Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout. The Rangers' Josh Hamilton and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera also have to be near the top of any list.
But Jeter sets the tone in the Yankees' clubhouse, and he's the table-setter at the top of the lineup, starting rallies the sluggers below him often finish. To that point, Jeter is hitting .390 with a .405 on-base percentage and a 1.015 OPS when he leads off innings this season. On two occasions in the first two games of this high-pressure series against the Angels at Yankee Stadium, Jeter opened an inning with the Yankees trailing.
On Friday night he sparked a key eighth-inning, four-run rally with a double, later scoring on Mark Teixeira's tying three-run homer. The Yanks won that game, 6-5. On Saturday, with the Angels already leading, 2-0, heading into the bottom of the first, Jeter led off by beating out an infield single. Robinson Cano knocked him in with a two-run homer.
Jeter now has 202 hits in the year since he reached the 3,000 mark on July 9, 2011. His 3,202 hits place him 14th on the all-time list, and his 1,818 runs has him alone in 16th place. This season he has a chance to move as high 11th in hits and eighth in runs.
Jeter, second in the AL this season with 114 hits, claimed he had no idea he had pounded out so many safeties since he went 5-for-5 that July day a year ago and homered to reach the 3,000-hit plateau against Rays left-hander David Price.
"Nobody tells me anything good," Jeter said on Saturday with a chuckle.
He also has a chance this year to become the first player to ever lead his league in total hits the season after he reached and surpassed 3,000.
Jeter has always been a smart player, but to the naked eye, at 38, he seems to have gained a step running down the first-base line. He's the rare player who looks better now than he did at the outset of the 2011 season before a calf injury landed him on the disabled list. Jeter now gears his workouts to speed and flexibility rather than strength.
"I'm not a power guy," Jeter said. "My job is to move around and stuff. I've never really been a big, big weight lifter. I lift more in the offseason, because during the season I can't really lift as much. I've got to stay flexible. A few years back I started that change.
"Right now, I just feel good, man. I just feel good. When you're healthy and you're feeling good, some times you may be a little quicker than others. I just work hard and try to stay healthy."
With that, Jeter ran off with bat in hand, saying he was late for "optional" batting practice.
Optional batting practice? That's the way Jeter rolls.
"Optional is always mandatory for the Jetes," his manager and former Yankees teammate Joe Girardi said.
That attitude sends a stark message to the rest of the pinstriped crew, particularly the relative newcomers.
"He works so hard, if you're not doing it you feel like an outcast," said catcher Russell Martin, in his second season with the Yankees after playing with the 2008 and 2009 Dodgers teams that lost to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series.
Raul Ibanez can make the comparison after playing with the Phillies for three seasons with leaders like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
"He's unbelievable, he really is," the left-fielder in his first year with the Yankees added. "It's not only his leadership with what he does on the field, but off the field he makes the team better just by showing up every day. That's the quality of person and leader he is. Obviously, what he's done on the field and he's continued to do speaks for itself. It's incredible."
The MVP award would not only be acknowledgement for a job well done this season, but the culmination of a career in which the Yankees have won five World Series, seven AL pennants and been to the playoffs every year except one since 1995. Along the way, Jeter is a .313 lifetime hitter with a .382 on-base percentage and .830 OPS. But in his first 17 seasons, he's only been as high as second in the MVP voting once, and third twice.
This season ought to be his time to finish No. 1.