For almost two decades, the New York Yankees have been secure at shortstop. Now, the club finally has to search for Derek Jeter’s replacement.
The 19-year veteran announced on Wednesday that the 2014 season will be his last. New York does have a head start, considering the future Hall of Famer announced his retirement will have an entire season to find a replacement. Still, it won’t be easy for them to fill the shoes of one of the greatest all-time players at his position.
The Yankees have several different options in trying to find their shortstop of the future. Even though Jeter will play in the upcoming season, barring injury, New York could sign a free agent this year who can officially take over for No.2 in 2015. Acquiring Stephen Drew would allow the Yankees to do just that.
Drew remains unsigned with Spring Training right around the corner, but he was one of the more productive players at his position in 2013. Only three MLB shortstops produced a higher OPS than he did in 124 games with the Boston Red Sox. He contributed 13 home runs and 67 RBI to the team that won the World Series.
The Red Sox are unwilling to give Drew what he wants, which is reportedly a multi-year contract. Meeting Drew’s demands might be worth it for New York, who is in need of quality infielders. Besides having a shortstop who will turn 40 years old during the season, the Yankees lost third baseman Alex Rodriguez to a one-year suspension and Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners. The organization has only signed marginal players at those positions, and Drew could spend time at each one this year before moving to shortstop in 2015.
If New York decides to wait a year to sign a free agent shortstop, there could be better options available. Both Hanley Ramirez and J.J. Hardy are entering the final year of their contracts.
Since his rookie season in 2006, few shortstops have been as good as Ramirez. He has a career batting average of .302 and a slugging percentage of .506. In 2013, he batted .345 with 20 home runs, while missing half the season. Hardy hasn’t been quite as good, but he’s consistent, averaging over 25 home runs in the last three seasons with the Baltimore Orioles.
New York would have to hope neither player signs an extension. The L.A. Times reports that Ramirez recently said he wants to be a “Dodger for life,” though that doesn’t mean he won’t test out the free agent market. Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette says he’ll discuss an extension with Hardy before opening day, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko.
After ignoring their goal to have a payroll less than $189 million, New York spent a lot of money this offseason. Signing Drew, Ramirez or Hardy would not be cheap. The Yankees could save a lot of money if they were to replace Jeter with someone from their farm system.
Calling up a prospect to play shortstop in 2015, though, does not seem like a probable scenario. New York has a few promising minor leaguers at the position, but none that appear to be on their way to the Majors any time soon. Tyler Wade had a big first year in the Yankees farm system, hitting .309 in 2013, but he needs a lot more seasoning. Abiatal Avelino might have the best chance of being an MLB shortstop one day, but seeing him in a year isn’t likely. As an 18-year-old, he played Class A baseball, failing to hit a single home run.
There’s a chance the Yankees won’t find a permanent option in 2015. While Jeter missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, utility players like Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix filled in. New York could go that route, until they develop a shortstop of their own or sign a suitable free agent.