Let’s indulge ourselves for a minute and play a game. Imagine, if you can, that Derek Jeter is not going to re-sign with the Yankees this winter. As hard as that is to do, let’s try to figure out which teams would have interest in Mr. November if the Yankees let him walk.
I’ll spare you the details on Jeter, since we’re all familiar with his track record, but here are the essentials. He is hitting .280/.343/.394 this year with 12 steals in 16 attempts. The four-time Gold Glover restored his defensive reputation last year, when he posted an above-average UZR/150, but UZR doesn’t like Jeter’s defense so far in 2010.
Jeter, perhaps the most marketable player in baseball, figures to reach 3,000 hits at some point in 2011. He’s also as durable as it gets; he averaged 152 games from 1996-2009 and is on pace to play just as many times this season.
There's absolutely no reason to expect Jeter to leave the Yankees, but here’s a look at the teams that would have interest in Jeter if the Yankees do not re-sign him. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll assume that Jeter wants to play shortstop, not left field or third base.
- Orioles - The Orioles need a shortstop, but it seems unlikely that Jeter would choose to finish his career for a team that doesn't appear ready to contend immediately.
- Tigers - Jeter would probably be tempting for the Tigers, who have relied on Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth at short this year.
- Twins - J.J. Hardy is a non-tender candidate after a disappointing first season in Minneapolis, so the Twins could be in the market for a shortstop this winter.
- A’s - The A’s need offense and Jeter’s track record suggests he would be a clear offensive upgrade over Cliff Pennington.
- Nationals - The Nationals, who have interest in one big-name free agent, could move Ian Desmond to second to make room for Jeter.
- Reds - The Reds have a $4MM option for Orlando Cabrera’s services, but would be a potential suitor for Jeter. However, Cincinnati will also be looking to replace or re-sign Ramon Hernandez, Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang.
- Cardinals - The Cards have Brendan Ryan and Tyler Greene, but they’d surely be tempted by Jeter.
- Padres - Miguel Tejada and Jerry Hairston Jr. are free agents, so the Padres could let them walk and replace Everth Cabrera with Jeter.
- Giants - Even if the Giants let Juan Uribe walk and decline Edgar Renteria's option, they could get by with Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burriss. But there's a big difference between just getting by and signing Derek Jeter.
- Others - The Mariners could get creative and move Jack Wilson to a backup-utility role; the Braves could decline Alex Gonzalez’s 2011 option or pick it up and trade him
The Rays (Jason Bartlett, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez), Red Sox (Marco Scutaro), Blue Jays (Yunel Escobar), Indians (Asdrubal Cabrera), White Sox (Alexei Ramirez), Angels (Erick Aybar), Rangers (Elvis Andrus), Phillies (Jimmy Rollins), Mets (Jose Reyes), Marlins (Hanley Ramirez), Brewers (Alcides Escobar), Cubs (Starlin Castro), Dodgers (Rafael Furcal), Diamondbacks (Stephen Drew) and Rockies (Troy Tulowitzki) all have shortstops under team control for 2011.
Christian Colon, the Royals’ first-round selection in this year’s draft (fourth-overall) may move from short to second eventually, but the Royals still don’t seem like a fit for Jeter. Neither do the Pirates and Astros, who aren’t in win-now mode.
Again, it's virtually impossible to imagine Jeter signing anywhere but the Bronx, so this piece is mostly for fun. But if he wanted to test the free agent market, Jeter would be able to choose from a number of legitimate suitors.