There have been a lot of storylines this offseason with regards to the Yankees. Or at least, a lot considering that they haven't done anything other than things they expected to do. It started with mindless premature "trade" talks around Alex Rodriguez, and with time that died down. Then they learned that Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte wanted to pitch again, and subsequently and not surprisingly they resigned each to one year deals. Hiroki Kuroda also resigned, and the Yankees have their pitching staff essentially lined up for 2013. Their legendary closer is back, their starting rotation is arguably overfilled (a good thing) and their bullpen looks to be as strong if not stronger than it was last season.
Obviously there's still a lot of questions to answer this offseason. Who will replace Alex Rodriguez for two months while he recovers from hip surgery? Will A-Rod ever be the same? Will Mariano Rivera come back strong after tearing an ACL? And who the hell is going to replace Nick Swisher and Russell Martin in the starting lineup?
These questions, however, have all been thoroughly discussed and at this point it's really just wait and see what Cashman can do at the winter meetings. All kinds of possibilities for right field, from a trade for Justin Upton to a platoon of Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz to an Ichiro resigning. Catching wise, they can go with their "in house" options or pursue a free agent (running out of time on that Brian...)... though if they go in house they may as well bring in a monkey to be the starting catcher. They'll have it for free! As for third base, they've been connected to Youkilis and Keppinger as possible temporary replacements, and in house options are a possibility there also.
For all the talk about Alex Rodriguez's future, it remains baseless and premature. Whether fans like it or not or like him or not, A-Rod is signed through 2017 and his full no-trade clause gives him complete control over any trade that could possibly occur. The chance that a team will want to take on even a fraction of his contract are slim at best. That contract is gonna keep him in the Yankees starting lineup as long as he wants to play. It's amazing to me how people continue to discuss his future with the team when he's signed both for more money and more years than any current Yankee under contract. He's going nowhere.
What hasn't been really discussed, however, is the guy who has manned the shortstop position better than anyone in the history of this organization, and thats what this post is about. Derek Jeter surprised a lot of people with a very strong offensive season in 2012, proving that his second half of 2011 wasn't a fluke and that he'd truly fixed something in his swing that he'd lost for a year in a half in 2010-early 2011. He hit .316/.362/.429, had 216 hits and played in 159 games, which is remarkable for someone of his age playing a demanding position. While it remains absolutely absurd that those numbers got him 7th in the MVP vote, he was a great leadoff hitter and a much needed compliment to a lineup that only saw a good number of important hitters rely on low OBP and high home run totals.
That said, Jeter just sustained a serious injury in Game 1 of the ALCS, and his future and future production can be just as big a question as A-Rod's or Mariano Rivera's or even Brett Gardner's or anybody else that is coming off serious, long term injuries. A fractured ankle is serious, and the recovery time for that kind of injury is about the same as the recovery time that A-Rod can expect about a month from now.
He's expected to be ready for opening day. Lets assume he is. But then the questions will (or at least should) start to begin. Not only because he's coming off surgery... that complicates things. But there would have been questions anyway. Why? Because he's on the last guaranteed year of his contract. 2014 is the season that the Yankees need to get below 189 million in budget. Oh, and he's Derek Jeter.
See where this could potentially become a complicated issue? This team is going to have enough questions going into the 2014 offseason. All their one year contracts that they're relying heavily on this upcoming season will be over. They can't afford to do that again either, with the need to get below 189 million in that particular year. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson will be entering free agency and there will be questions about who to bring back, how much to give them, whether or not they should have traded them, etc... And I'm sure that Alex Rodriguez will find his way into the news somehow (maybe in a good way for once?). But despite all these potential questions, perhaps the biggest one will concern Derek Jeter. And there are so many possibilities with how his particular situation is going to play out.
Possibility One: He comes out and has a similar season to 2012 or perhaps even better. Say he hits around .300/.360/.410 or something like that. Well, if he does that, then would anyone really expect him to exercise his relatively cheap player option for 2014? It could potentially be his last opportunity to get multiple years and a raise from the Yankees. And if he decides to go that route... then what? You're on a budget, you've repeatedly said that you want to be smarter with the way you spend available money. But then a Yankee icon comes up and wants 16-17 million per year over 2, maybe three years. What do you do then? If his name wasn't Derek Jeter and you were faced with the prospect of paying a 40 year old singles hitter that plays no defense substantial money like that, then you'd more likely than not be inclined to say no, correct? But they won't have that luxury, because his name is Derek Jeter. And they won't have the luxury of just eating the money with their deep pockets either, because they're essentially giving themselves a hard cap for that year.
Possibility Two: He falls apart. Well it doesn't have to be like that exactly, but we can say that he's no longer productive. Say the injury took a bigger toll on him than expected and he comes out with a similar to 2010 season offensively or worse. Or he gets hurt. For a guy that again plays virtually no defense, he needs to hit if he wants to be valuable. If he doesn't hit, the value plummets. In this scenario I see three things that could come out of it. One is retirement. Second (most likely I think) is that he picks up the player option knowing he'll have no leverage whatsoever in trying to negotiate a new contract. Or three, he decides to opt out and ask for a raise anyway, basically saying "I'm Derek Fucking Jeter dammit, give me what I want and get out of my way". If he does the second choice, then there would be questions about whether he should keep playing shortstop, whether they should relegate him to more of a part time role, or whether they should run him out there one more season. My bet would be on running him out there at shortstop again. But if he does third choice... well then that would create an incredibly awkward situation wouldn't it.
Possibility Three: Something in between. In terms of performance, I feel like this is most likely to happen. Defensively you pretty much know what you're getting at this point and it ain't pretty. But on the offensive end... you can't expect him to give a 2012-like season again, but I'd be surprised if he completely plummets also. A season somewhere around .285/.350/.400 or something. That would be in between his strong offensive 2012 and his struggles of 2010. And it isn't bad at all. For his role it's actually quite good. In fact I'd be very pleased if they got that out of Derek Jeter in 2013. But that would then again pose interesting questions regarding his future following the season. Is it good enough where he'd be willing to opt out and seek more money? Or would he exercise the option and stick around in 2014 with no questions asked? I'm more inclined to think that he'd opt out with a season like that, and then essentially you have the same questions to yourself as you do in the first possibility.
Basically this can be summed up like this. If Jeter performs anywhere from good-great offensively in 2013, there's a good chance he'll opt out looking for more money exactly at the time this team needs to get younger and on a budget. If he can't come back strong from the surgery and winds up struggling and opts out then it could possibly be even more awkward, or he exercises the option and then the question shifts to "what should his role be".
Fans have killed the Yankees for bad contracts, and A-Rod is pretty much the poster boy for that whole ordeal. "How could you pay 20+ million to a guy 37 and above and keep him until he's 42!!!" But they could potentially be entering a similar realm with A-Rod's longtime partner on the left side of the Yankee infield. Yes, he's Derek Jeter. And yes, if he has a good season in 2013 there's a good chance he could be looking for another contract and more money. And why not? Thats not a bad thing. I think a lot of guys in his position would do the same thing if that were the case. I would! But still, if it's dumb to give A-Rod or anybody else a lot of money as he ages into his 40s, then wouldn't the same hold true for Derek Jeter? Especially when you're operating under a strict budget with other incredibly important players hitting free agency as well?
Best case scenario here is that he comes out, has a fantastic season offensively in 2013, and then chooses to opt in anyway (at a very reasonable price too) and there's no negotiating that needs to be done. But to me anyway that doesn't seem likely.
If you think that this offseason holds a lot of questions, next year is going to hold a lot more. And while it's not completely certain, it's definitely possible that one of those biggest questions will be Derek Jeter. Time will tell.