What has Brian Cashman been smoking?
In a candid Q&A conducted on Tuesday morning, the New York Yankees general manager made a number of predictions. Among them: Shortstop Derek Jeter would soon move to the outfield, Joba Chamberlain won't move back to the rotation because he got hurt as a starting pitcher and that the Boston Red Sox are a better team than the Yankees.
It's strange for Cashman to be this open about things (which really does begin to raise questions about whether he's in his last season as general manager, I think). Did he really just say, in public, that the face of the franchise, who wouldn't move off shortstop for the greatest shortstop we'll ever see, who's already a little peeved at the organization, is likely going to be an outfielder?
[Update: He says he was taken out of context.]
I know that prospect has been discussed before, and I know the Yankees are looking at something of a logjam with Jesus Montero set to join Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in the group of "great hitters better suited to first base or DH." But Jeter to the outfield just strikes me as insane.
Let's assume he would be no worse defensively in the outfield than at shortstop. Over his career, Jeter has been about eight runs worse than average (according to Baseball-Reference) per season. And let's say that for the next four years he averages exactly what he's averaged over the previous four years with the bat, roughly 9.5 runs above average, not counting for position or playing time.
That means Jeter is a 1.5-run player over the course of the average season. But Jeter is obviously much more valuable than that. He plays everyday at the top of the lineup, which is worth more than 20 runs, and he plays shortstop, which is worth another 7.5 runs (he comes in a little below that because of time spent at DH). In all, that means Jeter has been worth, on average, 3.8 WAR over the past four seasons.
If we assume the most favorable scenario imaginable to Jeter — that he's no worse on defense in left, that his offense does not decline further, and that he remains as healthy over the next four years as he was over the previous four years — the move from shortstop (+7) to left field (-7) alone costs him 14 runs of value, basically 1.5 wins. Jeter moves from a 3.8-win player to a 2.3-win player.
Of course, under the scenario I described, there would be no reason to move Jeter off short. Getting nearly four wins from your shortstop is no problem. But if Jeter is closer to his 2010 performance going forward (1.3 WAR), a move to left field would destroy his remaining value — and, again, this assumes his his range and arm would not play worse in the outfield than they already do at short. The Yankees would be better off with a random AAA call-up in left field than moving Jeter.
The thing is, there isn't much choice.
If somehow Jeter became the first baseman, he would take an even more massive hit on offense (from +7.5 to -12.5 positional adjustment), though his defense would arguably be improved. At designated hitter, where the positional adjustment is -17.5 runs, Jeter would have to maintain his career average with the bat all four years just to be league average at the position. And in both cases, he would be displacing much better hitters in Teixeira and, eventually, A-Rod.
That seems to indicate the Yankees are stuck with Jeter at shortstop for the duration of the contract; his bat, absent a remarkable, sustained 2009-style resurgence, simply isn't good enough for the outfield, first base or DH. And if Cashman doesn't think Jeter can stick at short for the next four years, the real question is: To what extent will the Yankees hurt their on-field product to keep their Captain happy?
h/t to Krueg