Derek Jeter is coming.
Right now he's at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre testing out his surgically repaired ankle for a second time -- the first time he tried playing on it, back in Spring Training, he made it through five games before another break was found, and he had to go right back to rehabbing it. Now, despite pleading with General Manager Brian Cashman to forget about all this minor-league-rehab-assignment business and just put him in the lineup, Jeter likely will have to wait until after the All-Star break to get back in pinstripes in the Bronx.
While Jeter's return will solidify a shortstop position that has seen six different players over the season's first three months and change -- Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Reid Brignac, Alberto Gonzales, Luis Cruz and (for one brief inning) Robinson Cano -- unless Jeter's learned to play first, third and corner outfield as well, it's not going to do much more than make either Cruz or Gonzales expendable. And even if he hits like the ageless wonder that showed up for work last year, he's not going to be able to make up for all the holes in the Yankees lineup by himself.
Same song, different words: The newest cast-off gracing the Bronx Bombers' lineup is Travis Ishikawa, former first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers and, earlier this year, Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles had been content to keep Ishikawa at Triple-A Norfolk all season, where he raked, hitting .316/.413/.525 in 49 games for the Tides. His deal with the Orioles had an opt-out clause in it, however; on June 15, Baltimore either had to call him up or let him to find someone who would.
The Orioles opted for the former, and he went right back to doing what Travis Ishikawa's always done against major league pitching: not much. He hit .118/.167/.118 in 17 at-bats, an OPS+ of -20 -- meaning he was 120% worse than the average major league hitter. But that's a very small sample size; his career OPS+ of 90 is a more fair representation of what he brings to the table. With the Yankees scrambling for bats, as they have been all season long, when the Orioles left New York over the weekend, they left Travis Ishikawa's contract behind in the Bronx. He'll be backing up Lyle Overbay, who's posted a slugging-"heavy" 730 OPS this season, and even though both men are left-handed hitters, Overbay's platoon splits are so poor that Ishikawa is probably an upgrade against lefty pitching. Ishikawa went hitless in his Yankee debut on Monday.
That's the same basic story that's been happening all around the rest of the diamond for the Yankees all year -- Luis Cruz was designated for assignment by the Dodgers on June 28 and found himself in pinstripes less than a week later. Brennan Boesch found himself released by the Detroit Tigers in March and part of the Yankees' emergency outfield plans a few days later. Brignac was brought over from the Rockies in mid-May before New York grew tired of him and released him, right back to the Colorado organization. There was even speculation, though none of it very serious, that the Yankees might take a flyer on outfielder Jeff Francoeur when the Royals finally ran out of patience with him a few days ago and released him. (Francoeur wound up in San Francisco, where he could actually help the Giants quite a bit, if he's used in a strict platoon.)
Jeter would immediately jump back to the top of the lineup -- perhaps even taking over the leadoff spot on nights when Brett Gardner isn't playing -- and give Yankees fans some sense of continuity and attachment to a group of position players that's quite frankly out of place in the Bronx. At one point this year, when Robinson Cano was DH'ing, the team ran out an infield consisting of Lyle Overbay at first, David Adams at second, Jayson Nix at short and Alberto Gonzalez at third. That's dangerously close to a Triple-A infield, not the 3-4-5-6 for the team with the highest payroll in Major League Baseball. (It's worth noting that the team with the second-highest payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers, has had similar issues with the team they're fielding not matching the team they've paid for due to injury.)
This is, of course, barring any kind of setback on Jeter's part -- he's only had five or so live innings in the field over two games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and the Yankees should ignore every single thing coming out of his mouth about being ready to play now and force him to stick to the original schedule. Given Brian Cashman's ludicrous reaction to Alex Rodriguez's tweeting about being medically cleared to start playing again without consulting the Yankees first -- "A-Rod should just shut the f*** up" were his exact words if you missed that whole debacle -- I doubt that'll be an issue for the Yankees front office.
Between a possible forthcoming suspension for PED use and his ongoing hip issues, Rodriguez may or may not be back this season -- or ever again. Curtis Granderson, meanwhile, isn't able to swing a bat yet, and it will still be another few weeks before he can return from his broken pinkie. Mark Teixeira is gone for the year, of course, and Kevin Youkilis effectively has followed him -- surgery on a herniated disc in his back in mid-June was slated to keep him out 10-12 weeks, optimistically, the very end of the regular season. He likely would be available for the playoffs, but the Yankees have to get there first, and with the back of the rotation shaky and the offense barely getting by, things are looking worse and worse on that front.
Never fear, though. Derek Jeter is coming.