When the Yankees traded for shortstop Brendan Ryan last September shortly before shutting Derek Jeter down for the season, it was a move that was made simply to get Eduardo Nunez off the field in a last-ditch effort to make the playoffs. Despite Ryan's lack of much offensive talent at all, it was understandable, even though it didn't work out.
It was a little surprising to see the Yankees re-sign him in the off-season to essentially a three-year deal worth $5 million, but it was hard to quibble too much with it--in the past, the Yankees signed similar bench players Luis Sojo and Jose Molina to multi-year deals. Although he's turning 32 in March, Ryan is still an excellent defender at shortstop, and while he hasn't played there in a few years, it wouldn't be shocking to see him back up second and third, too. It would be nice to have a bench option who could hit a little and play good defense, but if that was the case, said player would likely not be riding the bench. Depth is important to have around, and if Ryan can provide valuable defense off the bench now and then, it likely will not be too difficult to make the $5 million investment worth it.
The Yankees' non-pursuit of legitimate insurance plans for shortstop in case Jeter's recovery from the 2012 ankle injury causes problems again was frustrating, but it did provide some comfort that Ryan would be around to play caddy to Jeter at shortstop. Jeter's difficulties with range are well-documented at this point (most notably in Ben Lindbergh's direct comparison to Ryan's defense during the latter's days with the Mariners), and few soon-to-be-40-year-olds are very good good on defense anyway. The Yankees would be starting Jeter every day, but it seemed logical that they could easily stick Ryan in the game for defensive purposes following the Captain's last at-bat of the game, much like they did with Brett Gardner during the 2009 season to get the aging Johnny Damon off the field.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that that plan is going to come to fruition:
Cashman and manager Joe Girardi said they haven’t so much as discussed the idea of removing Jeter for late-inning defense. The job is, essentially, just as it’s been for nearly two decades: it belongs to Jeter, except with the added probability that he’ll have to rest a little more often.
If this statement is to be taken at its word, then the only time fans will see Ryan is when he's starting every other game, not late in games to sub for Jeter. While it makes sense to take the hit on offense by starting Ryan every other day over Jeter (limiting Jeter to a figure in the vicinity of the recently-retired Chipper Jones's total of 112 games at third base in his final season of 2012 is a fair goal), it is quite confusing why the Yankees wouldn't try to improve the team on defense during the late innings of Jeter-started games. If they were willing to help the defense in '09 by subbing Gardner for Damon, why not do it now with Ryan for Jeter?
It calls Ryan's whole purpose on the team into question if he's not being used in such an obviously advantageous way. Some of those grounders that skip on by Jeter are less likely to get by Ryan. It's not unusual to see a blown save result from a couple "seeing-eye" singles that find a hole, and that's what the Yankees risk by keeping Jeter in the game. Is that worth keeping Jeter in the game in case the game goes extra innings so that his bat stays in the lineup? That's certainly debatable.
Small things like late-game defensive replacements for aging players are what can be the difference between a win and a loss. Just ask the 1986 Boston Red Sox. The Yankees have a more-than-capable defensive replacement for Jeter in Ryan. If they don't use utilize him to the best of their ability, it could certainly end up biting them in the ass.
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