|Tuesday, April 1
Yanks celebrate with YES deal, suffer with Jeter injury
By Rob Neyer
Without actually doing the research, I seriously doubt if many baseball teams have experienced as high a high and as low a low as the New York Yankees did Monday night.
Moments before they opened their season against the Blue Jays, the Yankees -- or rather, the Yankees-related company that controls their television broadcasts -- finally came to an agreement with Cablevision, which has something like three million subscribers in the Tri-State area. This happened a year later than everybody would have liked, but at least it happened.
Then, moments after they opened their season against the Blue Jays, the Yankees lost Derek Jeter, one of their best players, for what might be quite a long time.
It happened in the third inning. Jeter was on first base. With Jason Giambi at the plate, the Jays infield went into their big shift, with the third baseman playing near second base. Giambi hit a comebacker to the pitcher, who threw to first base for the out. Meanwhile, with the third baseman far out of position, Jeter steamed around second base with covetous eyes on third.
Catcher Ken Huckaby, who's what you might call a "defensive specialist," saw all this and sprinted toward third. Huckaby and Jeter arrived at the same time, with Jeter sliding head-first and Huckaby trying to get there first and tag Jeter out. Huckaby tried to block the bag -- which is against the rules, by the way -- but Jeter got his left hand between Huckaby's legs.
That didn't do him any good, though, because Huckaby knocked Jeter away from the base, then tagged him. Now, the rules clearly state that once the runner has touched the base, you can't forcibly remove him from it. That's exactly what Huckaby did, but for some reason third-base umpire Paul Emmel called Jeter out (which means Emmel blew two calls on the same play).
And that wasn't the worst of it. Huckaby's left knee -- protected by hard plastic -- drove straight into Jeter's left shoulder (as you've probably seen by now). At this writing, all we know is that he'll be out of action for at least two weeks.
What's next for the Yankees? Within 10 minutes of Jeter being carted off the field, Yankee broadcasters were informing us that Enrique Wilson "isn't your typical backup shortstop."
But that's what they have to say, because they work for the Yankees. In fact, Wilson is almost exactly your typical backup shortstop, or utility infielder or whatever. He's not bad with the glove, but his .298 career OBP is going to leave a big hole in the lineup; even as Jeter's game has deteriorated in recent years, he has posted .377 and .373 OBP's the last two seasons.
Do the Yankees have an alternative at shortstop? Not at hand, no. They have nobody in the minors who even remotely resembles a major-league shortstop. Minor leaguer Erick Almonte might become a decent player someday, but at this moment he's no better than Wilson. And platooning isn't in order, because Almonte bats right-handed and the switch-hitting Wilson has fared significantly better against left-handed pitchers.
So if the Yankees want a good shortstop, they're going to have look elsewhere.
Where? I'll leave that to those who are better-connected, but Orlando Cabrera is certainly an obvious target. Other shortstops I might consider, if I were Yankees GM Brian Cashman, include Desi Relaford, Omar Vizquel, Mike Bordick, and ... gee, I dunno ... Deivi Cruz? Bordick? Most of the good shortstops belong to good teams that aren't likely to deal.
There's another problem with the Yankees dealing for a shortstop: they don't have much to dangle as trade bait. In terms of Grade A prospects and even Grade B prospects, the Yankees' system is basically bereft; once you get past outfielder Juan Rivera, there isn't much there, especially at the upper levels. That's not to say they can't get a deal done, but it would be easier if there were more talent in the system.
The Yankees deserved to be considered the favorites in the East before Monday, and now they probably still deserve to be considered the favorites in the East, but the equation has changed. If the Red Sox weren't right behind the Yankees already, they certainly are now.
What does the YES-Cablevision deal mean?
It means a lot of money in The Big Stein's pockets. One estimate has YES pulling in another $60 million in subscriptions alone, and that doesn't even consider the increased advertising revenues, estimated in the tens of millions. In addition to the extra riches, this deal gives Steinbrenner and his accountants another opportunity to cook the books, as we know from prior experience that YES will significantly underpay for the rights to broadcast the Yankees, thus allowing the Yanks to shelter a goodly portion of their revenues from revenue-sharing.
(For more on these sorts of shenanigans, I highly recommend Andrew Zimbalist's new book, May the Best Team Win. If you read this book and whatever Doug Pappas is writing, you'll know everything about the ugly side of baseball that you need to know.)
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published this month by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season. His e-mail address is email@example.com.