Remember the fun of last off-season when writers and fans were hounding the Yankees about the difficulty to replace Mariano Rivera? Well, I hope you're prepared for the excitement of people demanding answers to how the Yankees replace Derek Jeter. While no closer in history is ever likely to recapture the security fans felt when Mo came into the game, it is so much easier to find an average closer than it is to find an average starting shortstop.
Obviously, David Robertson did not give fans quite the same feeling when he entered games compared to Mo, but on the whole, his numbers for the season were terrific. He blew just five saves (Mo blew at least five saves in half of his seasons closing) and pitched to a 3.08 ERA and 2.68 FIP while striking out 13.4 men per nine innings. Those numbers are terrific, and few other closers were as consistently great as D-Rob. The Yankees were fortunate to have a ready-made replacement instantly able to step in for Mo, but it's not like it would have been an arduous task to find a closer had Robertson not been there. The Giants just won a World Series in a season where 2013 All-Star closer Sergio Romo lost his job mid-season and they were immediately able to replace him with Santiago Casilla. As long as there are decent relievers, they can usually make decent closers.
It's simply not the same with shortstops. Even though Jeter was never an elite defender at shortstop, he provided so much offense from the position that for almost his entire career, it didn't matter. He could be stuck out there, survive, and the Yankees didn't have to worry about filling this challenging position. How difficult is it? Take a gander at the parade of shortstops that have come and gone throughout the major leagues since Jeter became a Yankees regular in 1996:
First impression: That is far too much Deivi Cruz and Cesar Izturis than is acceptable for anyone's health.
For most teams, it's been a constant struggle trying to find someone to take the reins for more than a year or two. The timeline would feature even more underwhelming players (think Pokey Reese, Josh Rutledge, and Eduardo Nunez) if I didn't cover gaps of shortstops who had to miss full seasons, or if I broke down the individual seasons by month as teams scrambled to find a shortstop as the Yankees did in 2013.
Expecting a long-term solution to come for the Yankees at shortstop this off-season is likely asking for too much. Some teams have been lucky enough to transition almost seamlessly from one shortstop to the next, as the Indians have with just three full-timers since 1994: Omar Vizquel, Jhonny Peralta, and Asdrubal Cabrera. (With Jose Ramirez already in the majors and highly-regarded Francisco Lindor on the way, it looks like Cleveland somehow won't miss a beat yet again.) On the other side of the coin, the Red Sox are still looking for the true heir to Nomar Garciaparra's throne (Maybe it's Xander Bogaerts?) and the Astros have had 11 shortstops since 1996. The Twins' best effort has probably been Cristian Guzman, who had one good season. Woof.
Remember as well that the Yankees spent quite some time looking for a starting shortstop in the years before Jeter's ascent. Jeter was their fifth Opening Day shortstop in five years when he took the field in '96. So if the Yankees take the field next year with Stephen Drew out there, it might be disappointing, but it shouldn't be cause for despair. It is damn difficult to find or develop a shortstop, as the 29 other teams can attest.