By Joe Giglio
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On Thursday afternoon, the Yankees’ captain returned to a rousing ovation, hit an infield single and scored a run. Judging by the feeling from the YES Network and media coverage in New York, all was right once again in baseball.
Not only did the Yankees admit to bringing Jeter back before they had originally planned, but the team placed him in his customary No. 2 spot in the order, signalling that his bat and athleticism, even in a diminished state, was vital to the success of the 2013 Yankees over the next three months.
What transpired from there — most notably a Yankees victory and a Jeter quad strain — changed the course of conversation in New York.
First, Jeter’s impact, especially on a day where the Yankees put up eight runs, was exacerbated, highlighting his base hit, run scored and run batted in. Imagining what the lineup could do with Jeter breaking up the lefties at the top of the order and Robinson Cano receiving more RBI opportunities was a part of the narrative in the Bronx on Thursday.
In the aftermath of the game, the story changed to the state of Jeter’s quad, if the Yankees erred in rushing him back onto the field and when, or if, he would be able to play this weekend against Minnesota.
All those talking points somehow missed the larger problem with the 2013 team: Contending teams shouldn’t have to rely on the services of 39-year-old shortstops to win and thrive in the toughest division in the sport.
The reception around Jeter on Thursday in New York, partly due to his status and accolades in a great career, made it feel like Miguel Cabrera or Chris Davis were inserted into the Yankees’ lineup. Instead, an aging, yet still potentially effective, Jeter returned, with the hopes of significantly changing the Yankees’ lineup attached to his arrival.
In 2013, that simply isn’t fair to him or the team. This isn’t 1999 anymore, folks. The Jeter that was truly one of the best hitters in the sport isn’t about to show up, whether it be on Friday against Minnesota or next week in Boston.
The problem, among many issues, with the 2013 Yankees has been pinned on injuries, but that’s sugarcoating the larger point: Relying on the production of stars that were at their peak a decade or more ago is foolhardy.
Jeter’s latest setback, coupled with Alex Rodriguez’s murky timetable to arrive in the Bronx, isolated the problem too simplistically. For once, it’s not truly about the marquee left side of the infield in New York. The true issue with the Yankees is how much they still need aging, injury-prone players to win baseball games.
If Jeter and or Rodriguez were expected to return as complementary parts, hitting say, seventh and eighth in the lineup, their long absences or setbacks wouldn’t be as crushing to the short-term future of the team.
Instead, they are needed, possibly, as second and fourth hitters in the lineup.
At some point, the 2013 Yankees may indeed be back to “full strength,” or something closely resembling that picture, but the expectations must still be curbed.
That reality shouldn’t be shocking, but as long as the team still needs a high-level Jeter to win, it’s going to become more stark as the months and years progress.
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