Via a Facebook posting, Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter announced that he will indeed retire following the 2014 season. It's sad, obviously, but I think most of us saw this coming, even if we're in a bit of a state of denial at the moment. That being said, the Yankees will have large shoes to fill at the shortstop position next season, and with very little shortstop help coming from the farm, the Yankees may have to turn to the free agent market next winter to find their Derek Jeter replacement. Looking at MLB Trade Rumors' list of potential free agents for next off-season, there happens to be a few intriguing options.
Quite possibly the biggest name to potentially hit next year's open market, Hanley Ramirez would, theoretically, be a very good Jeter replacement, even if he's a little shaky defensively. From an offensive standpoint, however, Hanley had arguably his best season in the majors last season, hitting .345/.402/.638, good for a Babe Ruth-esque 191 wRC+. He was stupid good last year and has always been a very good hitter over the course of his career.
The problem with Hanley's 2013 season, though? It only happened through 86 games and 336 plate appearances. He only appeared in four games through the first two months of the season due to thumb and hamstring injuries. The hamstring injury lingered for Ramirez the rest of the year and he had to miss time here and there along the way. Come postseason, Ramirez fractured a rib after being hit by a pitch during Game 1 of the NLCS, which took him out of the lineup for Game 2 of the series. Even before Ramirez's injury-filled 2013, the 30-year-old has missed time in the past with previous shoulder and back injuries.
It isn't a guarantee that Ramirez reaches free agency, either. The Dodgers were said to be working out an extension with Ramirez, but contract talks were "not imminent" as of early December. Ramirez also recently said he wants to be a "Dodger for life," so we'll have to wait and see.
Defensively, J.J. Hardy has been very reliable, but he has been pretty up-and-down with the bat over the years. Last season was more towards that "up" phase, as the 31-year-old hit a solid .263/.306/.433 through 644 plate appearances, good for a 99 wRC+. In recent years, he's posted wRC+ marks of 78, 113, 94, 75, and 115, so there's some uncertainty there. There was word of Hardy and the Baltimore Orioles working on an extension within the last week, but obviously there's nothing official yet.
The one-time Red Sock Lowrie really saw his career take off once he was traded from the Red Sox. Outside of a strong 2010, Lowrie was a career .252/.324/.408 (92 OPS+) hitter with Boston, but he has hit .274/.339/.443 (117 OPS+) in more than 1,000 plate appearances the last two seasons with the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics. He has played everywhere around the infield but is predominantly a shortstop. Lowrie has had problems with his shoulder and ankle that have kept him out for a chunk of time in the past, but he was able to stay healthy in 2013.
After hitting his stride from 2011-2012 by posting a .272/.335/.443 (118 OPS+) line, Cabrera fell off a bit last season in which he hit to a 98 OPS+. Despite making the occasional flashy play at short, defense hasn't been Cabrera's calling card, as UZR/150 and DRS have rated him as a -10.6 and a -15 defender, respectively, in nearly 5500 innings at the position. With hot-shot prospect Francisco Lindor further creeping towards the majors, there's a pretty good chance Cabrera will see the open market come next winter.
There are more shortstops that are set to hit the open market, of course, but these four are the headliners. I also wouldn't be surprised, however, if one or two of these guys (namely Ramirez and Hardy) were locked up by their respective teams before next winter. No matter who's available next winter, the Yankees will undoubtedly have massive shoes to fill once their captain officially calls it quits, and those shoes will either be filled by a free agent, someone acquired via trade, or maybe, one of these years, someone will come up through the farm system to fill the void.