I can't imagine there ever being another Yankees season quite like 2013. Despite injuries ravaging the roster, retreads abound, the controversy with Alex Rodriguez, and far too much Chris Stewart for anyone's well-being, the team somehow defied a poor run differential to stay somewhat in contention through early September before fading down the stretch. It was mostly a frustrating season to watch.
But at least we had Mariano Rivera. The incomparable Yankees closer announced before the season that he would retire. What followed was a touching farewell tour wherein not only did Mo receive amusing gifts from teams around the majors, but he also gave back to the baseball community, visiting groups of opposing team employees, fans, and more everywhere he went. Some baseball fans got a little sick of it, but they could at least appreciate that what Mariano was doing was incredibly kind and gracious.
Bolstering his farewell season was the fact that at 43, the seemingly-ageless Rivera was as reliable as he was in his prime. He finished his career with a 2.11 ERA (51 ERA-), 44 saves, 54 strikeouts, a 1.047 WHIP, 2.5 rWAR, and most remarkably, just six unintentional walks. The man was a master of control, and he was a big reason why the Yankees were able to stay in contention since he helped close the door in so many tight games that might have been blown by inferior closers. Indeed, the Yankees were a remarkable 30-16 in one-run games, a .652 winning percentage far better than their overall 85-77 record suggested they should have been.
This year, the story has been Derek Jeter's farewell tour, as he also announced prior to the season that he would bid adieu to baseball at the end of the season. The majority of baseball fans do still seem to enjoy his farewell tour, as he has received huge ovations everywhere he's visited this year, and while Rivera is also a popular future Hall of Famer, Jeter was arguably the face of baseball for damn near 20 years. Michael Jordan even made a memorable commercial for Nike wishing him well that still gives me the chills. More people knew Jeter than Rivera, and more were willing to visit their local teams when the Yankees visited to say goodbye to him. However, that has also meant more people would grow weary of the whole farewell tour, so there has been considerably more eye-rolling during Jeter's farewell tour than Mo's. That felt inevitable with Jeter considering how many people have said he's overrated over the years, though Joe Posnanski made an interesting argument that he's been called overrated so often that he's now underrated.
On a more relevant note however, Jeter's performance this year has not been close to what Rivera offered last year. It's true that being called upon to play in the starting lineup on an everyday basis is almost certainly more taxing on an athlete than coming out of the bullpen to pitch an inning or so every couple days, but the difference in production can't be ignored. Rivera thrived in his final year; Jeter has just been a little bit better than replacement level.
He's not a shortstop anymore (and really hasn't been in years other than 2009), and while he was never a big home run hitter, his power is just gone. His career-worst year in terms of slugging percentage was his 2010 campaign, a bit of a sluggish follow-up to his near-MVP season in '09. In 2010, he slugged .370 with 30 doubles and 10 homers in 157 games. This year, he's slugging a paltry .326 with just 13 doubles and three homers, none at Yankee Stadium. Traditionalists would deem his .270 batting average and 116 hits as fine, but they are almost entirely made up of singles. While he's walking about as much as he did in his superb 2012, his overall offensive performance is a .270/.321/.326 triple slash with an 81 wRC+ that ranks 17th out of 23 qualifying shortstops in baseball. It simply hasn't been a good year for the Captain.
At this point, it's looking like a long shot for the Yankees to make the playoffs, just as it did last year. The most glaring difference is that this year, their retiring icon is a big part of the problem (along with most of the offense), whereas last year, the icon was one of the few bright spots keeping them in contention. So while I enjoy watching this team more than the 2013 squad since there are far more causes for hope for the future with Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, Brett Gardner, and more, it is also more disappointing watching Jeter leave baseball in such a shaky state.
We can only hope that through some form of Yankee magic, the old Jeter can emerge for the final six weeks of his career. Even if he can't spark this Yankees squad to one last ditch run at the playoffs, it would be refreshing to at least see him recapture a semblance of his old glory. Hell, even one homer at Yankee Stadium would do. I'm just really missing the old Jeter. If we could just get him back for a little bit, I would feel a lot better about his final season.