Yankees doing just fine without Jeter

Are the Yankees better off without Derek Jeter? No one in the organization will touch that question — at least not now, and certainly not on the record — but the team’s overall surge in the last two weeks has left officials wondering what to do with the aging captain when he finally comes off the disabled list.

In one sense, Jeter will be welcomed like a returning hero, ready to become the first Yankee to collect 3,000 hits — he’s just six shy. But beneath the layer of pageantry is the front office’s cold, calculated understanding of what’s happened since June 14.

The Yankees are 10-3 during Jeter’s absence, not only catching and passing the Red Sox to sit atop the AL East, but now boasting the American League’s best record. Eduardo Nunez, the interim shortstop, is batting .295 during this 13-game span with a .354 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage.

Meanwhile, with the flexibility to rearrange his batting order, Joe Girardi has used both Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher in the leadoff spot. The result? The two have combined to hit .298 with three doubles, a homer and a .441 on-base percentage from that spot. Gardner, in particular, is passing the audition to eventually replace Jeter in the No. 1 spot: He’s batting .352 with a .439 on-base percentage and 16 runs in 22 games since June 4.

It’s numbers such as these that make the Yankees squirm, as they’re torn between their respect for Jeter’s legacy and the knowledge that he’s obviously declined.

GM Brian Cashman plays it safe when asked about the Yankees’ Jeter-less run, “I think this shows how talented we are, how we can withstand losing one our of everyday guys for a period of time” — although a more accurate barometer of Jeter’s standing with his employers was the haste with which they placed him on the DL.

The captain lobbied hard to remain on the active roster after straining a calf muscle, even though it would’ve left the Yankees shorthanded as they began interleague play. Jeter noted that Russell Martin had been able to work his way through a minor back injury without landing on the DL. Jeter all but asked: Why me and not him?

The Yankees were polite enough to not actually spell it out to Jeter, but the difference is that Martin was, and is, more vital to the Yankees’ everyday success. This isn’t 1999, when Jeter, at his peak, was a .342 hitter. These days, he’s receded to singles-only type offense. Even more damning, those timely, big hits of the past have disappeared.

On the day Jeter was placed on the DL, he was batting .179 with runners in scoring position, the second worst in the majors with anyone more than 75 plate appearances in those situations. His .260 batting average placed him exactly 100th in the majors, and his .649 OPS ranked 138th out of 165 hitters qualified for the batting title.

No wonder the Yankees find themselves in a tough spot.

Unless Jeter experiences a quick and dramatic turnaround, his return to the lineup will create the worst-possible dilemma for Girardi. Not only is Jeter expecting to be reinstalled as the everyday shortstop, he intends to bat in the leadoff spot, too.

Not that this comes as any surprise: This is the one component of Jeter’s psychological make-up that made him bulletproof in the past, even if it renders him oblivious today. Jeter is the least neurotic Yankee of this generation — the anti-Alex Rodriguez, loath to lose himself in self-analysis, certainly in self-doubt.

It’s why the captain was so tough to retire in October, because he didn’t worry much about consequences. But now, at age 37, with his reflexes slowing, Jeter lacks the self-awareness to see what others see — and, privately, want.

There’s nothing Girardi desires more than to have Jeter walk into his office next week and say, “don’t worry about me, I’ll hit wherever you want.” Statistically, Jeter should be at the bottom of the batting order — of the Yankees’ nine starters, he ranked seventh in on-base percentage. But as one member of the organization put it, “I’d be very, very surprised” if Jeter made any such concession to his manager.

At least there’ll be the final chase to 3,000 to take everyone’s mind off this uncomfortable situation. The timing, of course, is still up in the air, as Jeter only started running on Monday. For now, he’s rehabbing in Tampa, slowly working his way back to game-condition.

Ideally, the Yankees would like to see Jeter make history at home, in the Bronx, but that’s not to say anyone is in any great rush.

With the Yankees in the middle of a hot streak and Nunez hitting so capably, is anyone other than Jeter really watching the calendar?

NEWS ITEM: The Dodgers file for bankruptcy

 

This is obviously a dark day for one of the National League’s more prestigious franchises — one that not only will cast Frank McCourt as the greatest villain in Dodgers history, but will stain Bud Selig’s legacy, as well.

Ironically, though, the Dodgers’ fiasco has taken the spotlight off the Mets, at least temporarily, allowing the Wilpon family to quietly completely its sale with minority owner David Einhorn.

This deal doesn’t have to be ratified by the other owners, since Einhorn will be getting less than a 50 percent stake in the team. But it will require Selig’s final signature. And while Einhorn’s money is believed to be clean, it’s no stretch to assume Selig will sill be paying close attention, if only because he’s learned his lesson from McCourt.

After all, McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004 for $430 million — and most of the cash brought to the table was financed by debt. This might be one case where Selig says "Never again."