Commentary

Crunch time for slumping Captain

As Derek Jeter's contract talks near, his geriatric July has to concern Yankees

Updated: July 21, 2010, 11:34 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- How much is a .268 hitter with 14 homers and 78 RBIs worth? What if you throw in that the player is a shortstop and just had 36 candles placed on his birthday cake?

And what would you think if you were told the player probably was going to ask for $20 million-plus per season on his new contract?

The conversation changes, though, when the player is introduced: "The shortstop, No. 2, Derek Jeter, No. 2."

This is the conversation facing the Yankees as Jeter's average nosedives into never-before-seen depths and his projected full-season numbers -- again, .268 with 14 homers, 78 RBIs and an OPS of .712 -- head toward a negotiation room that becomes more interesting with each oh-fer day that passes.

On Tuesday, as the Angels slapped around the Yankees 10-2, Jeter put up another 0-for-4. "The Captain" did nothing offensively and left the clubhouse without talking about it. After being lifted for a pinch hitter during garbage time, Jeter apparently made a quick exit to prepare for Wednesday's day game.

Who would want to talk about what's been going on at the plate? Jeter is in the midst of what quite possibly could be the worst month of his career.

He is 11-for-59 (.186) this month. In April 2004, he heard boos as he hit .172 to open the season. In May 1997, he was a .227 hitter. Last month, he produced his third-worst month (not counting this one) by hitting just .243.

With June mirroring July, Jeter is in the worst two-month stretch of his career, at least in terms of batting average. He has never been a power guy, and with him now 36, the Yankees know there is an expiration date at shortstop.

As Jeter's average plummets, some of his leverage in negotiations might be going in the same direction. He started the month at .283 and he heads into Wednesday at .269. He hasn't been above .300 since he was 35. On June 6, he was at .300. Twenty days later, he turned 36. Jeter has never hit worse than .291 in a season, which was his batting average in 1997.

Still, with all that considered, the Yankees ended Tuesday with the best record in baseball at 58-34. They lost for only the third time in 13 days. Truth is, everyone in that clubhouse admits the pitching has carried them all season.

Now, as Phil Hughes struggles, A.J. Burnett tries to screw his head on straight while his hands mend and Andy Pettitte rests his groin, the hitters might need to pick it up.

On Tuesday, the Yankees had nothing for Angels starter Sean O'Sullivan, who got his first win of the season. O'Sullivan gave up two runs in the first but then retired 16 of the next 17 batters he faced.

"We had him on the ropes in the first, and he battled his way back," Nick Swisher said.

Leading off in the bottom of the first, Jeter nailed a rocket to short for a groundout against O'Sullivan. In the second, Jeter struck out. In the fifth, Jeter grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the seventh, he hit a grounder up the middle that Erick Aybar ranged to his left to grab and fired to first to beat a step-slow Jeter.

Usually, this is when Jeter heats up. In his career, he is a .332 hitter in July. In August, he is a .323 batter. In September, .327.

So maybe there are a lot of tomorrows left for Jeter -- even if the recent yesterdays have not been very Jeter-like.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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