The magical carpet ride known as Derek Jeter‘s career has spawned much debate in the past 18 years. The same questions seem to provide fodder for countless hours of sports radio debate. What if he played in a small market? What is he had been drafted by a bad team? What if the steroid era had not occurred coinciding with his career? Lets address those three topics.
Let’s place Jeter in Pittsburgh for argument purposes. A market which had just lost its two biggest stars, Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. Would Jeter have brought a winning mentality back to Pittsburgh and drawn other free agent stars despite a limited payroll to play there? Common sense says no. The economics of baseball at the time would have prevented Pittsburgh from surrounding Jeter with the talent necessary to make him the transcendent star he became, and lets face it, those lights in Pittsburgh don’t quite glimmer like they do in the Bronx. Jeter would have been a Michael Young-type player in this environment, still amassing 200 hit seasons, but blending in baseball’s landscape as one of those”nice” players every team could use. Not the megastar he became.
Large Market – Bad Team
This is the most compelling argument of the three. Lets place Jeter in Detroit. Would he have sped up the rebuilding process in the pre-Ivan Rodriguez era? I answer that with a resounding yes. If surrounded by stars that can be brought in and kept financially, Jeter would have displayed the same intangible qualities that make him stand out despite pedestrian power numbers. Slide him into the two-hole with power bats behind him and he will perform every duty a winning ballplayer can produce. Jeter was never a player who could carry you to the promised land, but he sure as heck provided the push across the proverbial goal line that every team covets.
Contrary to popular opinion, if Jeter had not played in the steroid era, I do not believe he would have stood outside in as grand fashion. Jeter was the anti-Ruth of his era. A throwback to the grinders of the 60s and 70s where going first to third or hitting behind a runner was an art practiced by the majority of major league players. His ability to resurrect these lost qualities made the average fan appreciate him in a way that would have been lost in previous decades where that was the expected and norm across the league.
We will never truly have an answer to this question to this fervent debate. I have my doubts as to his true historical greatness but as someone who watched Jeter on a day in and day out basis throughout his 18 year career I will never doubt his passion for the game of baseball. The Yankees provided him with a unique platform to be legendary and despite statistics that may say otherwise that is how he will be remembered.
In a bit of a surprise move by the Yankees, they locked up their homegrown outfielder, Brett Gardner, to a four-year, $52 million contract earlier today.
This seemed to come out of nowhere, and the amount of the contract took me by surprise. Curtis Granderson left the Yankees for the cross-town rival Mets, for four-years, $60 million. I was surprised to see Gardner getting Granderson-type money, especially since Granderson has had a much more celebrated career up to this point.
Gardner is a solid player in a changing game. As the game moves away from the bulked up, power hitting culture that was driven by performance enhancing drugs over the past two decades, players like Gardner could be a look at the future. Gardner will hit more triples than homeruns and will play outstanding defense and create runs with his speed. He’s a bit of a throwback player.
In addition to being a throwback player, Gardner is also one of the few remaining homegrown players on the Yankees. At the moment, he may be one of three that are in the starting lineup on opening day, and may be the eldest after Derek Jeter retires at the end of this season.
Even still, was $52 million an over-pay by the Yankees in order to prevent Gardner from testing out free agency?
The Yankees had some outfield prospects that have not panned out up to this point with Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin. The Gardner signing sends a message that the Yankees don’t see them being ready to help the big league club for the forseeable future (at least not in a starting capacity). If any of those prospects had been close to ready, the Yankees may have been more likely to let Gardner test the market. The Yankees now avoid having to go shopping in the free agent market for an outfielder this winter—they now have their outfield of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Gardner in place for the next three seasons.
Sounds like a win-win for the Yankees. As long as their outfielders can stay healthy, they are pretty much covered for the next three years.
Joel Sherman of the NY Post recently listed the 10 things the Yankees need for a dream season in 2014. Here is a list of the 10 items:
- Jeter starts 130 games at short and Mark Teixeira 140 at first. Because the alternatives are hardly appetizing. If Jeter can hit even .275 and be steady while limited on defense and Teixeira can provide 25 homers, it stabilizes an infield that feels so uncertain today.
- Masahiro Tanaka — like, say, Orlando Hernandez — quickly gives the impression he can handle the upgrade in competition in a new forum, providing a sense he is in control of his starts in a way, say, A.J. Burnett or Hideki Irabu never truly did.
- Michael Pineda makes 25 starts, pitches like a high-end No. 3 starter and leaves no doubt the Yankees won their Jesus Montero trade with the Mariners. Just as important, the Yankees leave the 2014 season believing they can build future rotations around Tanaka, Pineda, Ivan Nova and Manny Banuelos (who shows health and promise both at Triple-A and in major league cameos).
- David Robertson can not only handle the ninth inning, but someone such as Jose Ramirez or Preston Claiborne shows himself capable of replacing Robertson as the set-up man.
- Brian McCann not only turns the short right-field porch into his personal shooting gallery, but exhibits the kind of leadership skills that show he can take the baton from Jeter and be a stabilizing force in the clubhouse for years to come.
- Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner avoid injury and use their speed to steal a few outs on defense and drive opposing pitchers to distraction on offense by combining for 90 steals.
- CC Sabathia, with distance from his elbow surgery and comfort at his lighter weight, morphs into Andy Pettitte — 200 innings of reliability on the field, steadiness in the clubhouse.
- Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano show they still have it in their late-30s, combining for 50 homers while sharing a corner-outfield slot and the DH.
- Eduardo Nunez, who blew a golden shortstop opportunity while Jeter healed last year, capitalizes on his last best chance as a Yankee by showing last September, when he had an .808 OPS and fielded superbly at third, was no fluke.
- Gary Sanchez emerges as a top-20 prospect going into the 2015 campaign and at least one from among Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams is top 40, giving some life to what has been a too-dormant Yankees system.
Sherman hits these 10 on the head. If the Yankees can stay healthy there is no doubt they can win at least 90 games this season. However, with an average age of 33.5 years, they may have their work cut out for them.