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Jeter enduring awkward twilight

Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter played in just 17 games in 2013, batting .190.
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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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On Friday, I asked Derek Jeter if it would be special to pass Paul Molitor for ninth place on the all-time hits list. Jeter was four hits shy of Molitor at the time, and I was curious if it would mean anything more to overtake a Hall of Famer against whom he once competed.

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As I expected, Jeter mostly shrugged off the question, saying he only thought about such milestones when reporters asked. He recalled that Molitor was good to him as a young player. But he said of his hit total, “It’s the last thing I’m thinking about, given the year I’ve had.”

Referring, of course, to his injuries.

Jeter is consumed with the Yankees winning — that is how he broke his left ankle in the first place, trying to play while physically compromised. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman calls him the “king of toughness” for good reason. But now it might be time for Jeter to turn selfish and focus on his recovery, even if it means missing the rest of the season.

I say, “might,” because these decisions are intensely personal, and no one, least of all a media member, should tell Jeter what to do. If he can play, he will play — we all know that. But when he has played — at 39, coming off ankle surgery and various other leg issues — Jeter barely has resembled his old self.

His ankle betrayed him again on Saturday. Manager Joe Girardi walked briskly to the far end of the dugout after Jeter recorded Hit No. 3,316, an RBI single in the Yankees’ 13-9 loss to the Red Sox. Girardi shouted to get the attention of first-base coach Mick Kelleher and remove Jeter for a pinch-runner. A CT scan after the game was negative, but that hardly meant that Jeter was fine.

He has appeared in only 17 games this season. His last full game at shortstop was Thursday. A scout in attendance that night said bluntly, “It was tough to watch.”

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“He has always been able to slow the game down, but the game was too fast for him,” the scout said. “The will was there, but the legs were not.”

That could change this offseason; Jeter, no longer recovering from surgery, will work solely on his conditioning. Still, it’s difficult to imagine him returning as an everyday shortstop at 40. And his contract is another issue.

Jeter holds a $9.5 million player option for 2014. He also can accept a $3 million buyout, become a free agent and try to make up the $6.5 million difference in a new deal.

The entire industry, though, knows that Jeter would not want to leave the Yankees. And his image likely would take a hit if he tries to leverage the Yankees into giving him more than $9.5 million coming off a season in which he barely played.

The logical solution is for Jeter to exercise his player option, work like crazy to make a strong recovery and see what happens in ’14. If at some point he determined that he no longer can compete at a high level, then retirement would be an option.

To many of us, he will always be the young, fresh-faced Jeter, the brilliant inside-out hitter, the fastest player in the majors home to first from the right side.

Well, we all need to adjust our vision. At this point, I’d settle for just seeing Jeter healthy again.

One interesting free agent

Speaking of players coming off major leg injuries, Braves right-hander Tim Hudson will enter the free-agent market after undergoing surgery on July 26 to repair a deltoid ligament and fractured fibula in his right ankle.

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Hudson, 38, had a 3.97 ERA at the time of his injury, and his salary this season was $9 million. Re-signing with the Braves would allow him to remain close to his home in Auburn, Ala. But Hudson, a member of the Braves since 2005, is certain to draw interest from other clubs.

The Angel, Mets and Giants are among the teams expected to be in the market for a veteran starter. Hudson also would fit for the Nationals in Dan Haren’s spot, and the Rockies are constantly looking for sinker-ballers, though it’s doubtful they would be the high bidder for a prominent free agent.

Hudson, who is expected to resume baseball activities by December, almost certainly will want to join a contender.

One fascinating offseason

The Rangers could lose two outfielders in free agency, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy, as well as both of their catchers, A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto.

How convenient.

Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Braves catcher Brian McCann, two players in whom the Rangers have previously shown interest, are about to hit the open market.

The Rangers have inquired on Ellsbury “a fair amount,” according to a major league source, including in July 2012 when they talked to the Red Sox about a deal for Ellsbury and right-hander Josh Beckett.

As the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant points out, the team has given three different players at least 100 plate appearances in the leadoff spot this season. The most recent, center fielder Leonys Martin, produced only a .301 on-base percentage batting first. Ellsbury’s OBP is .355.

As for McCann, the Rangers have asked about him at least twice since the end of last season, including in late July, according to sources. Both times, the Braves expressed that they had no interest in trading him.

Obviously, both Ellsbury and McCann figure to draw multiple suitors. The Mariners, in particular, could seek to bring Ellsbury, an Oregon native, home to the Pacific Northwest. The Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies are among the other high-revenue teams that could pursue catchers; the Red Sox’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Phillies’ Carlos Ruiz are potential free agents.

Hey, Pirates!

The Sports Illustrated cover boys, losers of four straight, are now in danger of finishing third in the NL Central and playing the wild-card game on the road against the Reds or Cardinals. (I’m assuming, of course, that the Nationals cannot erase a deficit of 7½ games for the second wild card in their final 20 games).

Such an outcome clearly would be disappointing for the Pirates after all that they have accomplished — and also would hurt them competitively, considering how well their pitchers have fared at PNC Park.

It’s not just that the Pirates own a 2.87 ERA at home and 3.76 ERA on the road, or that their 45-25 record at home is the second-best in the NL behind the Braves, who are 51-20, and Reds, who are 47-24.

Here’s an even better stat: The Pirates have allowed a major league-low 29 homers in 70 home games. The last team to allow fewer homers at home in a season was the 1989 Royals, who gave up 26.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano has yet to allow a homer at PNC in 59-2/3 innings. Lefty Jeff Locke has given up seven; no other Pirates pitcher has allowed more than four.

The Cardinals are second in fewest homers allowed at home, having given up 44 in 71 games. The Blue Jays have allowed the most homers at home — 108 in 69 games.

Ike Davis, Chris Davis, Khris Davis

I speculated in my latest Full Count video that the Mets could trade first baseman Ike Davis, who batted .205 with a .661 OPS and endured a minor league demotion before suffering what is likely a season-ending strained oblique.

Davis, 26, also is a non-tender candidate after earning $3.125 million in his first year of arbitration. Some in the Mets’ front office, however, fear that he could turn into another Chris Davis (no relation) if the team gives up on him too soon, according to a major league source.

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Sound crazy?

Well, Chris Davis had a .248 career batting average and .755 OPS and averaged one home run every 21 at-bats before the Rangers traded him to the Orioles on July 30 2011.

Ike Davis, meanwhile, has a .242 career batting average and .768 OPS, averaging one home run every 22.2 at-bats.

The difference is that Ike compiled those numbers in 758 more plate appearances than Chris had with the Rangers. In other words, Ike has been given far more of a chance.

Frankly, I’m intrigued by another Davis — Brewers rookie left fielder Khris Davis, who is batting .279 with nine home runs and a .936 OPS in 123 plate appearances.

Khris hits good pitching, too — he has hit two homers off the Reds’ Homer Bailey, and also has gone deep off of the Pirates’ Liriano, Reds’ Tony Cingrani, rangers’ Alexi Ogando and CubsJames Russell.

Here's Joey!

Think the Red Sox’s Jonny Gomes is a little, uh, intense? Well, Jonny has a brother, Joey, who is one year older — and who once came out of the stands to assist Jonny’s minor league team in a bench-clearing brawl.

Joey played professionally, too, rising to Double-A with Tampa Bay and even playing briefly with Jonny at Class-A Bakersfield in 2002. But on the evening in question, Joey was just a fan.

Jonny was playing for Bakersfield against the San Jose Giants. Without getting too heavily into details, let’s just say that the hostilities began when San Jose threw at Jonny.

The brawl, Jonny said, was, “one of biggest ones I’ve ever seen. It was 25 on 25. The police came on the field to stop it. If you weren’t knocked out cold, you were still fighting.”

And Joey’s participation?

“What an older brother should do,” Jonny said, matter-of-factly.

Victorino a defensive weapon, too

Red Sox manager John Farrell describes right fielder Shane Victorino as “a much better outfielder than I ever thought” — and at least one statistical measure supports Farrell’s observation.

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Victorino, according to John Dewan’s plus-minus ratings at Bill James Online, has made 29 more plays than the average right fielder this season, according to the video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions.

The DiamondbacksGerardo Parra, at plus-33, and Braves’ Jason Heyward, at plus-32, are the only right fielders with better ratings.

Here’s what is especially interesting: Victorino was minus-13 in center for the Phillies last season. His highest rating in center, plus-14, was in 2008. And while defensive measures aren’t always precise, Farrell rattled off a number of positive observations about Victorino in his meeting with the MLB on FOX broadcasters Saturday.

“Fearless ... Acrobatic ... I don’t think he gets enough credit for how he throws — he has a quick release, accurate ... He’s technically sound. Always get to the spot. His attention to detail on defense shows up in games.”

Around the horn

• The Nationals are the only team with a certain managerial opening, and if the players had their choice, the team would hire bench coach Randy Knorr, sources say.

Knorr, 45, managed a number of Nats in the minors, and almost all hold him in high regard. Club officials, though, might prefer a bigger name — most notably, Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and Yankees manager Joe Girardi also would figure to interest the Nationals, but neither is likely to become available.

• The Athletics lead the AL West by 1½ games, and their rotation behind ace right-hander Jarrod Parker might be rounding into even better form.

Rookie righty Sonny Gray is looking like the second coming of Tim Hudson and pitching like a No. 2 starter. Righties Dan Straily and Bartolo Colon both showed improvement against the Astros over the weekend. (I know, I know; it was only the Astros).

Righty A.J. Griffin remains a pivotal figure — he is more established then Gray and Straily and, while not exactly dominant, somewhat more trustworthy than Colon.

• For once, the Rockies’ rotation holds promise, in no small part because of the outstanding performances of right-hander Jhoulys Chacin and lefty Jorge De La Rosa.

The Rockies plan to De La Rosa’s $11 million club option, and they control Chacin through 2015. Righties Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio are among their other alternatives, along with lefty Drew Pomeranz, who has not pitched since July 22 because of biceps tendinitis.

A veteran starter is on the team’s wish list, and signing one could enable the team to make righty Chad Bettis a late-inning reliever. Three recent first-round picks — lefty Tyler Anderson, righty Eddie Butler and righty Jonathan Gray – are among the team’s top prospects.

• The Diamondbacks are just two games over .500, and a losing record would qualify as a significant disappointment for a team was in first place as recently as July 21.

Then again, injuries have been an issue for the D-backs all season. And while such an excuse often rings hollow, keep in mind that the D-backs can’t match the Dodgers’ depth when their payroll is at least $130 million lower.

Center fielder Adam Eaton, right fielder Cody Ross, second baseman Aaron Hill and catcher Miguel Montero were among the regulars who missed significant time. Right-handers Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Daniel Hudson and J.J. Putz were among the pitchers who were lost.

An injury to McCarthy hardly qualifies as a surprise, but the Diamondbacks also expected righty Daniel Hudson to return from Tommy John surgery. As it turned out, Hudson required a second Tommy John operation.

• The Cubs may have found something with rookie outfielder Junior Lake, who possesses big tools and is batting .309 with an .818 OPS in 201 plate appearances.

Lake’s 48-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn’t encouraging, but at the very least the Cubs can try him as a bridge to younger outfield prospects such as Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, who likely will not be ready before 2015.

If Lake develops into a regular, it will give the Cubs at least one established option going forward.

• And finally, a scout offers this comp for Evan Gattis:

Harmon Killebrew.

Tagged: Orioles, Red Sox, Brewers, Athletics, Rangers, Braves, Cubs, Reds, Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Tim Hudson, Dan Haren, Jonny Gomes, Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Hill, Francisco Liriano, Shane Victorino, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Homer Bailey, Chris Davis, Daniel Hudson, Ike Davis, Yankees, Derek Jeter

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