Barring a late season run, this September will be Derek Jeter’s last month playing professional baseball. Jeter, the physical embodiment of the New York Yankees and Yankee Pride for the past two decades, will finally step down as “The Captain” and retire. A shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, Mr. November made 14 all-star teams, won 5 Gold Gloves, and won 5 World Series with the Yankees. In 19 years, Jeter only missed the playoffs three times. While I, an unfortunate Mets fan, had to withstand years of hallways flooded with number 2 t-shirts accompanied with chants about how the Yankees were always number one, I could not help but respect their gritty shortstop. He was not only a great hitter and fielder, but was one of the classiest, most professional players of our generation.
If this praise seems a little much, tune into YES network after September 25. In between Yankees Hot Stove coverage will be Derek Jeter’s 3,000 hit game, followed by the premiere of Yankeeography: Derek Jeter. You’ll get more Derek Jeter love than you’d ever think possible. Yes, Yankee fans love him, but at the same time, they’re also afraid of what lies ahead. The Yankees missed the playoffs last year. Albeit they went 89-73 in what was considered a “disappointing” year, but still, they aren’t getting any younger and the aging stars that compose their roster are starting to look more like patchwork rather than a masterful blueprint. True, injuries decimated this year’s squad, but the friendly faces are getting fewer and further between. First, Bernie Williams retired, then Posada, Mussina, Pettite, Mariano, etc. Jeter is the last face, and possibly the last resemblance of those teams that tore Major League Baseball apart for 20 years.
But the future can’t be that dark, right? This team has the highest payroll in all of baseball and a front office determined to win at all (monetary) costs. If guys are getting old or aren’t producing, they’ll just sign more, because they are the Yankees. They have the market, the winning track record and can pay more than just about every other MLB franchise. But how long can spending sustain this organization? Especially after Jeter leaves and its heart on the field is presumably gone. Carlos Beltrán is 37 and isn’t getting any younger. Ichiro, too is on the final legs of his career and Mark Teixeira, while still a big bat, looks to be hitting the end of his prime. The Yankees just have too many question marks on their aging, injury-plagued roster to realistically be successful next season. CC Sabathia’s best days are behind him, and who knows if Tanaka will ever return to form. As it stands, the Yankees have two, good 30-year-old outfielders in Gardner and Ellsbury, a 30-year-old former all-star catcher in Brian McCann, an aging Teixeira and some good relievers. Nothing else is a given. It’s getting harder and harder for Yankee fans to look people in the eye and tell people they have a roster of champions on their hands. Does this mean the Yankees will think about, gasp, rebuilding?
The Yankees have had a good track record with developing home-grown talent in the past. After all, Jeter, Mariano, Posada, Pettite, Bernie Williams, and Cano all came through the Yankee farm system. Yet, even team GM Brian Cashman said of the farm system in early 2014 according to an article by ESPN: “It’s not as good as we need it to be in terms of results.” Only three Yankees made ESPN’s list of Top 100 prospects. Even if it doesn’t come from what their system holds right now, the Yankees will have to eventually get younger.
But would a few years of losing baseball really be the worst thing for the Yankees and their fans? Certainly 16 out of 19 playoff seasons is good enough. Their franchise has been defined by eras of dominance, not necessarily 111 straight years of it. Fans will be waiting for the next Derek Jeter, a true professional in all senses of the word. And as for the Yankees, they will always find a way to win. I’m just hoping they’ll wait a few years.