I haven’t written about Derek Jeter’s impending retirement. Jeter, who is the master of calculated moves, announced his retirement, following the 2014 season, on Facebook about three weeks ago. Jeter’s announcement came just days after A-Rod dropped his federal appeal against MLB. After breaking his ankle during the 2012 ALCS, Jeter missed nearly the entire 2013 season. When he did play, Jeter looked old, slow, and feeble. Jeter’s bat speed has clearly declined and he’s having issues getting around on mid-90s fastballs. In the field, Jeter has no problem fielding groundballs hit to him, but his range is compromised. Yankee fans are so used to seeing a young, youthful Jeter manning shortstop and I can’t help, but think Yankee fans are going to be very disappointed with Jeter this season. Mariano Rivera dominated on his farewell tour. Can Jeter match that dominance in his last season? I wouldn’t bet on it.
I usually discount Spring Training stats, but when players who missed a lot of games in the previous season play, I take notice. Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun is hitting an absurd .825 so far. Jeter? 0-for-9 with six groundouts, which isn’t a good sign. During 2012 and 2013, Jeter posted his highest ground ball rates (63% and 71%, respectively) of his career. Jeter’s fly ball rate continued to plummet to career low of nine percent in limited action last season. These stats further illustrate Jeter’s decline and inability to drive the ball like he used to. If Jeter continues to drag his high ground ball rate into the regular season, can the Yankees still afford to slot him second in the batting order?
If Jeter struggles through April, Joe Girardi may have some tough decisions to make. For now, it’s appropriate to assume Jeter will hit second behind Jacoby Ellsbury and in front of Carlos Beltran. Fans are so used to seeing Jeter set the table for the power hitters and if he can’t get the job done anymore, will he accept a demotion down the order? Will the fans accept a demotion? Will ownership worry about the backlash of such a move? Remember, Jeter is the last remaining ‘Dynasty Yankee’ and one of the ten best players ever to don a Yankee uniform. It’s not an easy situation and the Yankees will likely lose, either in the media/with the fans or on the scoreboard.
It’s hard to see a player who can still play retire. No one wanted to see Mariano Rivera go because he was still one of the top closers in the game. Leaving emotion out of the equation, Jeter isn’t a top player anymore and hasn’t been one since 2009. Some fans completely wrote Jeter off last season because the team wasn’t missing his production. The team did miss his leadership ability, but Jeter is no longer cranking out 200 hits per season.
It’s always hard to see an iconic player retire, but some Yankee fans are losing sight of the big picture. The Yankees didn’t make the playoffs last season and the Boston Red Sox are the reigning world champs. Yankee ownership spent nearly a half billion dollars on new players. Focus should be on winning the AL East, AL Pennant, and then the World Series. Anything less is failure. Derek Jeter will be showered with gifts and attention from opposing teams, but I hope Yankee fans don’t lose their edge this season. I think most fans lost sight of the big picture during the Rivera hoopla last season. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.
The 2014 season is a critical one for the future. The Yankees have a lot of new stars that must assimilate to the challenges of playing in New York. Derek Jeter should receive the attention and accolades he deserves, but that shouldn’t make fans complacent. Remember what the ultimate goal is…