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Derek Jeter: Yankee Captain Getting Kicked While He's Down

-- See Pinstripe Alley for more discussion and analysis of the Yankees

<strong>Derek Jeter</strong>.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Derek Jeter. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Stephen A. Smith goes on the radio and blabs about how the New York Yankees should make it a "priority" to bring Jose Reyes to the Bronx to play shortstop if the New York Mets are serious about getting rid of him. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News writes that the Yankees might be happy if the 37-year-old Jeter just went away. Bobby Valentine watches Brett Gardner have a good night leading off on Sunday night and opines that the Yankees have a decision to make about moving Jeter toward the bottom of the lineup when he comes back off the disabled list.

Wow! I guess it doesn't take long around New York not only for someone's star to shine a little less brightly, but to fall completely out of the sky. I guess I shouldn't be, but I am a little surprised that a guy who is in the top six Yankees of all time (five if you put him ahead of Mariano Rivera, six if you put the future Hall of Fame closer ahead of Jeter) doesn't get a little more rope. This is New York, though, so that is how it is.

Jeter is undeniably not the same player he used to be. Father Time catches up with everyone. Hitting just .260 when he went on the disabled list Jeter isn't crawling toward the 3,000-hit mark, but he isn't rocketing toward it, either. Yes, his range is only slightly more than that of a statue -- but at least he makes the plays on balls he gets to. That's a whole lot better than Eduardo Nunez, who at this point in his young career makes you hold your breath every time he tries to catch -- or throw -- the ball. With Jeter the only question is can he actually get to the ball.

In all honesty, it probably is time for Jeter to move to the seven or eight-hole in the Yankee lineup and allow Gardner the speedy, hot-hitting Gardner (.294 batting average overall, .404 in June) to lead off. Let Gardner use his speed to wreak havoc in front of Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.

Don Mattingly eventually moved out of the third spot. Babe Ruth got traded away from the Yankees. Willie Mays finished his career as a bit player with the Mets. Cap Ripken Jr. moved down in the Baltimore lineup, and from shortstop to third base.

It happens, and it will happen to Jeter. Just don't expect it to happen at least until after Jeter gets his 3,000th hit. Some might see it as too much deference to a player who isn't what he used to be. I see leaving Jeter alone until he reaches the milestone as a sign of well-deserved respect. If he was hitting .180, you move him. But, he wasn't. Soon enough he will be the only player to amass 3,000 hits as a Yankee. Let it be a celebratory occasion. Then talk about changing the lineup.

As for the position switch, that is coming. It just is not coming mid-season this year. Jeter is a proud player and wants to stay at shortstop as long as possible. He has been open to changing his training routine the past few years to extend his time there, and it has helped. Father Time, though, will always find ways to outfox better training.

I would be stunned if the Yankees moved Jeter off shortstop this year. Nunez, range and potential aside, is still an adventure in the field and not a guy who is ready to push Jeter to a new position. The Yankees are not mortgaging the farm system for Reyes, either. That would be another mid-season insult to one of the greatest players in franchise history, and one I see as unnecessary.

Is Reyes, today, a better shortstop than Jeter? No question. Would he be a better replacement for The Captain at shortstop than Nunez? Certainly. If the Yankees believe Reyes is the guy they have to have to replace Jeter long-term, we all know they will do what they think they need to do.

I just don't see it. If Jeter at shortstop was going to be the difference between the Yankees winning and losing a World Series in 2011, I would say move him regardless of whether or not you hurt his feelings. In my view, however, that is not the case.

Truth is, the Yankee "priority" should be finding a No.1 or No. 2 starter to add to the top of their rotation. They won't go deep into the playoffs this season without one, no matter who is at shortstop. The other truth is, a pitcher of that caliber is not available on the trade market this summer.

If Reyes winds up in the Bronx, though, I see that as much more likely to be something that happens this offseason when Reyes can be a free agent. The Yankees do need to have that unpleasant conversation with Jeter about moving off shortstop.

I just don't see the need to do it right this second.