Derek Jeter announced today that the 2014 season will be his last, re-starting the pinstripe-retirement rollout machine we saw in full force celebrating Mariano Rivera last year. As a lifelong Yankee fan who grew up in the '90s, I feel that Jeter's retirement officially signals an end of an era that spoiled me and millions of New Yorkers as baseball fans. Yet it also provides an opportunity for a team that has let its infield defense slide over the past decade to unshackle itself from the limited range of its legendary shortstop.
As I did last season with Mo, I will be grateful for the opportunity to honor my Captain, who has represented the best of baseball during a dubious period of inflated egos while steering clear of controversy. (Our third baseman could take notice.) All this season, we'll get to relive the great moments: the home run that made him Mr. November; the all-out dive into the stands to save a run against the Red Sox; and, of course, the flip play against the A's that defined Jeter's uncanny, instinctual penchant for being the right man in the right place at exactly the right time.
But the easy trap as a Yankee fan is to get wrapped up in the past, with a century of legendary figures and moments to choose from. Instead, the whittling of the Core Four to the Key Three to the one Captain finally gives us the chance to look to the future, one with a shortstop who can get to those balls that were out of the range of even a young Jeter.
The 2015 free agent class is rather barren when it comes to shortstops to build a team around. Most of the players are older than 35 -- and, really, what's the point in going from one old infielder to another? -- while the youngest available option is Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, 28, known for his dazzling, acrobatic plays but who leaves much to be desired on the advanced-metrics side of things. Hanley Ramirez, who's now 30, might sound like a sexy pick and had a career resurgence with the Dodgers last year, but he wields a much bigger bat than glove. The best option seems to be J.J. Hardy of the Orioles, a stellar defender who happens to also be a dead pull hitter with power that plays to the advantage of Yankee Stadium's short porch. But Hardy will be 32 by the time Jeter's spot is vacant, meaning that any solution the Yankees come up with in the next two seasons will be temporary.
The Yankees put themselves in this position by depleting their once-vaunted farm system -- you know, the one that actually produced home-grown talent such as Jeter, Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. Jeter's presence will be missed, especially in the clubhouse, where his calming influence has stilled the chaotic Bronx waters for nearly two decades; but at least now the Yankees can forge ahead without constantly looking back.
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