While Derek Jeter has not officially announced his retirement, it is safe to say that that day will come soon. It could be after this season, or he may even squeak out another year in pinstripes and sign another one-year contract. But regardless, we all know that his career is waning. In Jeter's career we have seen five World Championships and he collected some great accolades: 13 All-Star appearances, five Silver Slugger awards, 1996 Rookie of the Year, a World Series MVP, and is an exclusive member of the 3,000 hit club. Unfortunately for the Yankees' organization, Jeter's career will not last forever. It would be in the team's best interest to consider who will take up the mantle of shortstop after he is gone. Here I will examine the opportunities on the 2014-2015 free agent market, the trading block, as well as the (unlikely) possibility of an internal replacement.
Of the free agents next season at shortstop, only four will be under the age of 33: Asdrubal Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Hanley Ramirez. And of those four, Only J.J. Hardy and Hanley Ramirez have put up more than two 2.0+ fWAR seasons; Cabrera and Lowrie have only compiled 13.0 and 9.4 fWAR, respectively, thus hurting their standings as viable, long-term solutions. So, what about Ramirez and Hardy? Whether the Yankees want to pursue either one of them depends on their financial situation come next year. If they are severely strapped for cash, then Hardy would obviously be the cheapest. But if the Yankees want to settle the issue of who will be the Yankees' shortstop for years to come, then Ramirez would be worth it. Hardy, when accounting for 2014 Steamer projections and a -0.5 fWAR per year regression model, is projected to tabulate 6.2 fWAR from 2015-2018, and only the first two years would be of starter level quality. That would mean if they wanted to save money and acquire Hardy as a stop-gap, they would need a replacement for him lined up as well. Ramirez, on the other hand, will be worth much more and for much longer. Going by the same model as with Hardy, Ramirez is projected to compile 11.8 fWAR from 2015-2018, nearly double of what Hardy is projected to put together. This just means, though, that Ramirez will command the highest price on the free agent market--if the Yankees are unwilling to pay that price, then there are also trade alternatives.
What pieces the Yankees could actually put on the trading block themselves is up for immense debate, but some of the following candidates for shortstop could be worthwhile. One of them, whose name was brought up very recently in Hot Stove talk, is Didi Gregorius. Many are torn on his future, though. Gregorius is a promising prospect, but his under-performing offensive numbers put into question whether Gregorius could handle a starting shortstop position. Through 425 plate appearances, Gregorius has put up an unimpressive 90 wRC+ and an ISO of just .114. Luckily for the Diamondbacks and for the Yankees if they looked to acquire him, Gregorius is only 23 years old. Because of his defensive potential, he could project to be a strong, defensive shortstop during the prime of his career. Another worthy candidate that would be deserving of a look is Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez is similar to Gregorius in that he is a primarily defensive shortstop with a light bat. He is 32, though, which means that he is not on the upside like Greogrius. But, he would only have 1 year (with an option year) on his contract left after 2014 and would only cost $8 million per year. And considering that he has put together three 3.0+ fWAR seasons in the past four seasons, this would make him a great bang-for-the-buck acquisition. Both of these options aren't the most glamorous; I'd like to see the Yankees pursue a prospect like Carlos Correa or a rising super star like Andrelton Simmons just as much as the next guy, but realistically most teams are unwillingly to sacrifice their shortstop. Maybe, though, there are solutions that can be found internally.
As we all know, the internal options are rather thin. We're very familiar with Eduardo Nunez, and I think we can all agree that he should not be the starting shortstop moving forward. In 336 PA, Nunez put together a paltry 83 wRC+ and a -1.4 fWAR. Enough said. Luckily the Yankees did acquire defensive shortstop extraordinaire Brendan Ryan, but he can't hit well at all. And while he did have two seasons at 2.8 fWAR, he's now on the wrong side of 30 and will probably be no better than a utility shortstop for the rest of his career. Beyond that, the farm system is very, very weak. The only prospect who raised any eyebrows was Gosuke Katoh, who is actually a second baseman. Katoh was drafted in the 2013 draft as a high school senior and showcases an Ichiro-esque swing and well above average defense, good enough defense that he will be given a shot at shortstop.
The Yankees will not realize how lucky they were with Derek Jeter until he is gone. It's not very often that a team doesn't have to worry about a position for nearly 20 years, and now the dream is over and reality is going to set in. Given that: most excellent young shortstops are locked under team control, there are few shortstops on the upcoming free agent market, and their farm system is essentially empty, it is a possibility that shortstop will be a black hole. Whatever route the Yankees decide to go down, I don't foresee their option lasting for a generation.
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