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The best position for Derek Jeter

4/2/2010

Whenever Yankees general manager Brian Cashman conferences with his staff to prepare the team's offer to shortstop Derek Jeter, one of the questions that undoubtedly will be asked is this: What position is Jeter going to play in his next contract, and for how long?

First, they'll have to consider the parameters that frame the issue for the Yankees. Jeter is 35 and turns 36 in June. First base is not really an option because Mark Teixeira is signed for most of this decade; his contract expires after 2016. Third base is not an option because Alex Rodriguez is signed through 2017.

The same defensive statistics that reflected poorly on Jeter a few years ago indicated that he has improved his lateral movement the past couple of years -- which, by the way, is in line with what some scouts are seeing with their eyes.

So where will he play, and when?

I posed that question to a number of scouts, GMs and talent evaluators. Here are some of the responses:

Talent evaluator No. 1: "Most of the time, when you see a good defensive shortstop move, they can go to second base and be pretty good -- and in some cases, really good. And of all the Yankees who've been around there in recent years, my sense was that Robinson Cano [the current second baseman] is the one guy the Yankees would at least be willing to talk about in a trade.

"So maybe what you do is trade Cano for some other piece and move Jeter to second base. I think it's hard to put him in the outfield because they won't get the kind of production that they'll need from those positions as he gets older. Second base makes the most sense to me."

Scout No. 1: "This isn't as easy as you would think. He has great baseball instincts, but in his late 30s, learning how to turn the double play from second base won't be that easy. There's no room on the corners -- and all things being equal, he'd probably best fit at either third base or first base. What if they sign Carl Crawford? Derek Jeter would be, what, your Yankees utility player making $20 million? Left field is probably the best option. DH? Probably not. Realistically, first base would be the easiest transfer of positions. Give him a month and he could be average at it."

Scout No. 2: "I think Jeter will end up in left field. I doubt he will retain enough speed to play in center field. With Yankee Stadium's big left field, it is still a valuable defensive position. I suppose if he really slowed down, they could hide him in the small right field."

Talent evaluator No. 2: "Jeter's athleticism, instincts and strong throwing arm would make him a natural fit in right field. I don't think center field is an option for the same reason that shortstop isn't an option; his speed and quick-twitch tools will likely diminish as he approaches the age of 40. There are two other things to consider. First, Jeter's defense at shortstop improved significantly last year.

"For this reason, I don't think a position shift will occur for at least another year or two. The other thing -- and this is no accident -- is the Yankees parted ways with DH types like Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. These moves will afford the Yankees much more positional flexibility, particularly with respect to Jeter, in the immediate future."

Former Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, (now part of the "Baseball Tonight" crew): "I don't see him moving off shortstop for a couple of more years. If you had to move him, second base would be the place he would go, but he still can play shortstop.

"He still fields the balls that he gets to, he's still great on double plays. He's still a very competent shortstop, and the thing with him is that when he thinks he's lost a step or two, positioning can work for him. I wouldn't be ready to put him at another position. In fact, I could see him playing shortstop another five years -- 'til the end of his next contract. Look at Omar Vizquel -- he's over 40, and he still can play shortstop.

"Jeter's a great athlete, he's in great shape, and he can stay there. Now, if he has a major injury with his legs, that changes the equation."

Talent evaluator No. 3: "It seems like left field would probably be an ideal spot, all things considered. As he continues to age and slow down, it wouldn't be ideal for New York to have him in center field, though no doubt his instincts would allow him to play there at a competent level. In left field, he'd still bring solid athleticism and decent arm strength to the position while not having to cover as much ground as a center fielder. Jeter seems like a guy who could conceivably transition to a new position about as seamlessly as anyone in baseball. You know he's going to keep himself in the best shape possible, and his athleticism will translate pretty well to any spot once he moves off shortstop."

My own take: I think he will be a good right fielder, and as he gets older, he will be better-suited to play in the outfield spot in Yankee Stadium that requires less range; right field, as everybody knows, does not have as much open space as left field. Jeter has a strong arm and would play the ball well and aggressively, and the fact that the Yankees would have to commit what is typically a power position to someone who is not a pure power hitter doesn't matter quite as much as it would for some teams because New York will get ample power from other spots.

And I think we've reached the stage in his career when his standing as the team's shortstop will be evaluated year to year. If he shows a decline in range this year, I think the Yankees will react accordingly -- if they feel as if they need better defense at shortstop to win, they'll go get another shortstop.

As Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio discovered firsthand, generations of Yankees executives have shared a common approach when it comes to dealing with older players: They will make changes when success of the team is at stake. Through their history, they have valued wins for the franchise over nostalgia.

Brandon Webb has no structural damage.

The battle for jobs

1. Scott Schoeneweis won the last spot in the Boston bullpen. Watched him throw on Thursday, and he looked pretty good.

2. The Nationals have a very different-looking bullpen this year, writes Adam Kilgore.

3. The numbers worked against the Jays' Brett Cecil.

4. Cristian Guzman got some time in right field.

5. Chad Moeller was granted his release by the O's, writes Jeff Zrebiec.

6. David Huff won the No. 5 spot in the Cleveland rotation.

7. The Brewers' roster is just about set.

8. The Reds have a lot more roster cuts to make.

9. The Rangers have built a nice bench, writes Evan Grant.

10. The Mariners' roster has few surprises, writes Larry LaRue.

11. Matt Stairs made the Padres' roster.

12. Charlie Haeger is the Dodgers' No. 5 starter.

13. Buster Posey appears to be headed to Triple-A, writes Ray Ratto. Posey will be back soon; he's one of the Giants' best hitters, according to rival scouts.

14. Travis Buck is being sent down.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The decision on whether to bring back Lou Piniella belongs to Jim Hendry, says the club president. There should be no rush for the Cubs to make this decision.

2. The New York Times sold some of its share of the Boston Red Sox.

3. There is something kind of sad about this: Brian Anderson wants to try pitching.

4. The Orioles traded for Julio Lugo, which gives them some protection in the event Brian Roberts has a setback.

5. The addition of Placido Polanco makes the Phillies' lineup better, writes Matt Gelb.

6. The Astros could use Pedro Feliz at first base to start the year, writes Bernardo Fallas.

Dings and dents

1. With Joe Blanton down, the Phillies lack pitching depth. It will be an awkward summer for the Phillies if the Mariners struggle in the first half and then put Cliff Lee on the trade market -- at a time when Ruben Amaro might need a starting pitcher.

2. A Red Sox pitcher is out for the year.

3. Paul Konerko's thumb is feeling good, writes Mark Gonzales.

4. Matt Joyce will start the year on the disabled list, writes Marc Topkin.

Thursday's games

1. Fausto Carmona had another walkless outing.

2. This is nicely timed for the Rockies: Jeff Francis threw well, writes Troy Renck.

3. Edwin Jackson pitched effectively.

4. James Shields is tuned up and ready to go.

5. A couple of young Tigers showed off their speed.

6. Some scouts were probably writing this down frantically: Eddie Bonine leaned on his knuckleball a lot in his last exhibition outing.

7. John Maine had a tough day.

8. Jake Peavy had a strong outing and wondered why everybody worried about his spring performance. He's a pitcher who does his best work with the regular adrenaline of the season flowing.

9. Ryan Franklin fired it up in his final exhibition in Florida, Rick Hummel writes.

10. Johnny Cueto got knocked around and had a stiff back.

11. The newly acquired Nate Robertson had a nice first showing for the Marlins. This could turn out to be an outstanding deal for Florida.

12. Justin Duchscherer looked good, but Barry Zito ... not so much.

Other stuff

• For Omar Minaya, the glass is always half full, writes David Waldstein.

Justin Upton is aiming for 100 RBIs, writes Nick Piecoro.

• Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu likes his team, writes Geoff Baker.

Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge have bonded, writes Chuck Finder.

• The Rangers' season has been branded by the Ron Washington revelation.

Rickie Weeks has had a nice spring training, writes Tom Haudricourt.

• L.A. needs the Dodgers and Angels, writes Bill Plaschke.

• The Padres' bullpen has become a strength, writes John Maffei.

Jose Guillen is a question mark for the Royals, writes Sam Mellinger.

• Theo Epstein has the Red Sox positioned for an extended run, writes Tony Massarotti.

• The Twins have a spring in their step, writes Joe Christensen.

• The Twins' rotation could be sneaky good, writes Kelsie Smith.

Ryan Dempster draws inspiration from his baby daughter.

Wandy Rodriguez questioned his own readiness.

Travis Snider is trying to get better, writes Ken Fidlin.

• The Jays expect to have more harmony, writes Jeff Blair.

• Bruce Arthur wonders whether Alex Anthopoulos can slay baseball's goliaths.

Ryan Raburn provides flexibility for Jim Leyland, writes John Lowe.

• John Russell is pleased with the Pirates' showing this spring.

Francisco Rodriguez flew back to Venezuela after a member of his family was hurt in a car accident.

• Here are the top 10 players to watch this season, courtesy of Bob Klapisch.

• The man charged with killing Nick Adenhart has asked that the trial be moved.

• You can take a tour of Target Field here.

• Bob Elliott tells stories from spring trainings in the past -- and he's had a lot of them.

Only two days until Opening Day ...

And today will be better than yesterday.