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The Yankees Long-Term Problem: There's No New Jeter In Sight

This is what happens when you ignore farms for free agency.

By J.R. Gamble April 19, 2013, 12:51 PM EST

Jeter

When Derek Jeter ripped up his ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers last season, Yankees Nation held their collective breath and let out a simultaneous, “Oh sh*t.”

They hoped the image of the once-invincible Yankees captain writhing on the ground in pain wasn’t their last of the baseball legend.

In the playoffs, Jeter’s absence — while not as extreme — had the same damaging psychological effect on the Yankees as Biggie’s death had on Junior Mafia. The group slowly fell out of relevance without its heart to pump greatness into everyone else.

Jeter did his usual meticulous work to come back for opening day. He had a few swings in Spring Training and thought he was ready to be the 38-year-old Jeter who led the major league with 216 hits. He wasn’t.

For the first time in almost 20 years, Yankees fans are seriously contemplating life without Jeter. The reality is a grim one.

An exam by doctors on Thursday revealed a small crack in Jeter’s surgically repaired ankle. It won’t require more surgery, but Jeter will need extended rest and rehab, and is not expected back until after the All-Star break (which could be a contrived date to appease fans).

“You know when Derek Jeter continues to have issues that don’t go away, that means more than just your typical something,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told USA Today. “It’s a setback, so it’s not a good situation…We have to back off.”

Without Jeter, the Yankee infield has fallen off. The Eduardo Nunez-Jayson Nix platoon is shaky and the minor league system, which Baseball America ranks 11th in the league, has no shortstops among its top 13 prospects.

The way the Yankees previously relinquished minor league studs and pillaged the free agent market, eventually relegated their minor-league system to nothing more than a holding cell for future trade pieces.

Minor-league shortstop Cito Culver was once considered heir to the throne and even wears No. 2 (poor kid). A dismal 2012 saw him hit .215, with 104 Ks in 122 games – hardly promotion-worthy.

Robinson Cano is the future face of the Yankees and is going to get blessed with a Jeter-type mega-deal at year’s end. The Yankees are hoping he can hold the fort down better than Lil’ Cease did when B.I.G. left.

While the injury is not career-threatening, a workhorse like Jeter wishes he could trade in all his millions for a new body. What does he have left as a shortstop – two seasons at most? If he chooses to pursue Pete Rose’s hits record, he’ll do it as a DH.

Envisioning the Yankees infield with a no-name at short is weird, like watching“What’s Happening” after mama passed. Or “Good Times” after James died. If the Yankees do get Jeter back this season, cherish the plate appearances and the hustle-hard base-running. We’re all getting a reminder of how ill Father Time is. He throws an unhittable fast ball. One even the great Jeter can’t get around on.

Jr_gamble

J.R. Gamble writes for The Shadow League. He's been covering pro sports as a radio host and journalist since 1996. He's written for The Raleigh News & Observer, Newsday and SLAM Magazine. He has co-hosted Sportsrap Radio with A Tribe Called Quest legend Phife Dawg. Follow him @fanalyst1 & find him on Facebook.

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