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Hartnett: Derek Jeter’s Return Brings Hope To Crumbling Yankees Empire

Getting This Team Into Playoffs Will Be Jeter's Greatest Challenge
Derek Jeter (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Derek Jeter (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Like a majestic white knight riding into battle to change the tide of a losing fight, Derek Jeter is set to come off the disabled list on Thursday afternoon in time to face the Kansas City Royals.

These current Yankees are a far cry from their celebrated dynasty-era teams filled with guts and veteran panache, or even the more recent big-spending 2009 championship team that christened new Yankee Stadium with immediate World Series glory.

When Jeter glances at the lineup card it will be missing the names of high-priced sluggers in Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson. Instead, he’ll look around the dugout and see entirely new faces next to him in Zoilo Almonte and Luis Cruz.

The current Yankees are largely made up of scrap-heap additions, thanks to bean-counting, cost-cutting philosophies replacing the lavish spending that was formerly the Bombers’ calling card.

No doubt about it, this scenario will present a creaky, 39-year-old Jeter with the greatest challenge of his career. Outside of Wednesday night’s outburst against the Royals, this group has been feeble at the plate. The Yankees rank 11th in the American League in runs scored and currently sit six games out of first place in the AL East.

Their run differential is +1. Everything about this team screams out ordinary and middle-rung.

The Yankees have lacked identity without their inspirational shortstop, and an identity is exactly what Jeter will inject into the pinstripes in his sooner-than-expected return.

Yankee Stadium has been half-filled for the majority of 2013, and it has lacked any kind of life and vigor. Jeter’s return will bring the fans back to their seats and awaken the ballpark in the Bronx.

No one knows how he’ll look when he takes the field at shortstop. The Yankees will play it safe on Thursday and have him DH in his return at stormy and soggy Yankee Stadium.

The club’s hopes are pined to Jeter’s questionable left ankle. As the Biogenesis firestorm descends on Alex Rodriguez, the future of A-Rod becomes even more murky. If you polled Yankees fans, most would prefer to see A-Rod as far away from the team as possible.

What could be more storybook than Jeter leading a rag-tag group of Yankees that nobody believed in into the playoffs?

You never know with Jeter. Few thought he was capable of batting above his lifetime career average of .314 at the age of 38. In 2012, he logged a .316 average and a robust on-base percentage of .362.

The Yankees’ once-mighty empire is crumbling. It’s unclear if the current Yankees regime will be willing to deliver the long-term contract Robinson Cano is seeking after getting burned on many similar deals in the past. How can they adequately replace the veteran guile of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte? Who knows what this team will look like once Jeter’s days gracing the diamond are over…

For now, Yankees fans can take solace knowing that Jeter will do everything in his power to awaken this team for a playoff charge. The sheer presence of Jeter alone will put all these questions on the backburner.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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