Jeter discussion just beginning

If shortstop leaves N.Y., where would he fit in?

The silence around baseball regarding those suddenly and unexpectedly available has been deafening.

The Yankees have won five World Series with Derek Jeter, but now that he’s 36 with long-haul contributors like Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez on his flank they seem to think they can live without him.

Perhaps that’s because they are on the verge of signing Cliff Lee to a contract that could pay more per season than the $23 million CC Sabathia makes, and maybe they’re figuring how strong they would be with a first base-DH tandem of Albert Pujols and Teixeira.

Maybe the management cabal of Brian Cashman, Randy Levine and the Steinbrenners really felt Jeter was so content in New York that he happily would take a three-year, $45 million offer, even though it was way less than half what Rodriguez received when he was only one year younger than Jeter is now. Or maybe the Yankees didn’t think there was a team with the audacity to gamble on the closing chapters of Jeter’s career.

With the winter meetings a little more than a week away, we’re about to find out if anyone is bold enough or crazy enough to give Jeter an upper hand in the negotiations that turned ugly when Cashman said the Yankees encouraged their 11-time All-Star “to test the market and see if there’s something he would prefer.”

There’s no question Jeter’s skills are declining. His .270 batting average in 2010 was his lowest since he was promoted to play 15 games in 1995. But in 2009 he hit .334, his second best average in a decade, and two of his three highest rankings in MVP votes came in the last four years. His .340 on-base percentage ranked sixth among the 22 shortstops who qualified for the batting titles and his Mensa-level instincts earned him his fifth Gold Glove as he helped the Yankees reach the championship series for the ninth time in his 15 seasons.

“What?” one former big-league player asked the New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica. “He has one bad year and now it’s going to be straight downhill from here?”

Jeter still could help a lot of teams, not to mention that he’s only 74 hits away from 3,000 and is sure to sell a lot of tickets.

Among the teams that at least must be discussing Jeter:

Red Sox: Wouldn’t this be delicious? They have two shortstops now but have been listening to offers for Marco Scutaro. Jeter could fit at shortstop for at least one or two more years, with Jed Lowrie understudying him. He would be a great fit playing for Terry Francona and alongside gamers such as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

Cardinals: Shortstop is wide open, as is the question of whether Pujols is going to stay beyond 2011. They could chase one more championship with Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Tony La Russa, and then Jeter would join Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday in keeping the Cardinals competitive post-Pujols.

Giants: The World Series champs aren’t bringing back Edgar Renteria. They could use some of their October money to import Jeter, whose skills fit nicely on a team built to win low-run games.

Orioles: Jeter began his career playing for manager Buck Showalter. His addition would go a long way toward restoring the credibility of a franchise that big-name free agents now shun.

Twins: Because the Twins can’t beat Jeter, maybe they can sign him. Adding a guy with Jeter’s presence could be the equivalent of adding a front-line starter, which is the piece that has seemed lacking.

Angels: Erick Aybar is reaching the point of his career when his salary is starting to outdistance his value. Jeter would fit in well as the Angels try to get back their mojo in an improved division. .

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