Pete Rose sees you, Derek Jeter.
Jeter isn't looking like a 38-year-old player this season. Typically, 38-year-olds don't hit .326, and they certainly don't lead the league in hits. The New York Yankees' ageless shortstop is doing both at the moment.
Jeter already has more hits this season than he had in all of 2011, a year in which he finally crossed the 3,000-hit plateau. That now feels like ancient history, as Jeter is sitting on 3,255 career hits and is quickly moving up the rankings on the list of players with the most hits in baseball history.
The man at the top is watching Jeter's ascent very closely.
Rose, whose 4,256 career hits still top the charts, told The New York Times recently that he never misses a chance to watch Jeter.
“I’ll watch him tonight,” he said. “I watch him every night.”
He should be. Jeter is only 1,001 hits away from tying Rose's all-time mark, and what's another 1,001 hits to a guy who already has well over 3,000 and is hitting .326 at the age of 38?
That's the million-dollar question. While Rose is certainly within sight from where Jeter is standing, it's very much debatable whether he is in reach.
And you know what that means.
Yup, it's time for an immediate discussion.
If All Goes Well This Season...
If ESPN.com is to be believed, Jeter is on pace to finish this season with 222 hits.
That, for the record, would be a new career high. The most hits Jeter has ever recorded in a season was 219 back in 1999.
So is 222 hits too good to be true?
ESPN.com's projection assumes two things. One is that Jeter will maintain his .326 batting average through the end of the season. The other is that he'll finish the season with 681 at-bats.
It's not hard to imagine him finishing the season with a .326 average, but the 681 ABs are problematic because that would be nearly 20 more ABs than Jeter's career high of 663 in a single season back in 2010.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Jeter's 162-game average for ABs is 661. That's a more reasonable expectation for this season than 681.
If he does finish the season hitting .326, that means we can expect him to finish the season with roughly 215 hits.
The tricky part is that Jeter is much hotter now than he was in the first half of the season. He's hitting .366 in the second half after hitting a mere (tongue firmly in cheek) .308 before the All-Star break.
Let's assume he stays on this pace and that he ends up logging 282 ABs in the second half (the average amount of ABs he logged in the second half of the season between 2009 and 2011). If so, he'll finish with 103 hits in the second half.
Add those to his 111 hits in the first half, and you get 214 total hits.
So once again, roughly 215 hits comes off as a reasonable expectation for this season. It's not 222, mind you, but 215 hits would still be a single-season record for a 38-year-old hitter.
If Jeter does end up with 215 hits this season, he'll be sitting on 3,303 career hits heading into 2013, 953 hits away from Rose.
So That Means...
There's no question that Jeter has a legit shot at finishing the season with 215 hits. The dilemma, as it pertains to his pursuit of Rose, is that he's finished with 215 hits only once before this season. It's not something Jeter has a habit of doing.
Combine the rarity of a 215-hit season for Jeter with the fact that he's getting up there in age, and it's highly unlikely that he'll be able to gather 215 hits in a single season again after 2012.
And that's a problem because he could string together four straight 215-hit seasons after this year and he would still be short of Rose's hit record by 93 hits.
This doesn't mean Jeter can't catch Rose, mind you. It just means that he's not going to be able to do so quickly. Jeter's pursuit of Rose is likely to be a long, drawn-out affair if he decides to see it through to the end.
Jeter may have one more 200-hit season in him after this year. Maybe two if he's really lucky and he continues to keep himself in impeccable physical shape.
Even still, two more 200-hit seasons would only put him at 3,703 hits for his career, over 550 away from Rose.
Jeter will turn 40 in 2014. He'll know by then that it's going to take a few more seasons' worth of everyday playing time in order to catch Rose, and he could very well decide that the pursuit just isn't worth it.
Complicating matters is the fact that the choice to pursue Rose isn't entirely Jeter's.
Will the Yankees Invest in Jeter's Pursuit of Rose?
Jeter has been a Yankee his whole career, but at this point in time, the Yankees are not committed to him for the long haul.
Jeter has one more guaranteed year left on his contract, one that will pay him $17 million in 2013. He then has an $8 million player option for 2014 that could increase to $17 million based on various incentives.
He'll probably choose to exercise that option, and the Yankees probably won't try to talk him out of it.
Once 2014 is over, however, it's far from a given that the Yankees will look to bring Jeter back.
It surely would have been a given if George Steinbrenner was still running the show, but Hal Steinbrenner is more practical than his old man ever was. He's looking to lower payroll in the future, and the rich long-term contracts of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez are going to force the Yankees into hunting for bargain players like they never have before.
Keep in mind that payroll space will be even tighter if the Yankees choose to sign Curtis Granderson and/or Robinson Cano to extensions, bridges that the Yankees are going to have to cross (or not cross) in the very near future.
Jeter is still a very good hitter. The issue is that he's lacking in terms of overall value, and thus not much of a bargain player.
According to FanGraphs, there are five shortstops across MLB with higher WARs than Jeter at the moment. This is thanks largely to his sagging defense, which takes away from the value of his offensive contributions.
His defense is not going to get any better. And indeed, it's perfectly fair to argue that his bat isn't going to get any better despite all this talk of potential 200-hit seasons at the ages of 39 and 40.
When the 2014 offseason rolls around, the Yankees could very well finally part ways with Jeter, leaving him to continue his pursuit of Rose with another team.
Here's another million-dollar question: Would he be willing to keep playing on another team for the sole purpose of chasing Rose?
Rose hinted that he doesn't think Jeter will be up for something like that, saying of Jeter: “He’s not the kind of guy who’s going to play for another team.”
He has a point. Jeter has only known winning his whole career, and the Yankees have always done everything in their power to keep him happy (e.g. not moving him from shortstop a long time ago, as they should have). Needless to say, he's had it pretty good during his career.
If Jeter were to leave the Yankees and join another team following the 2014 season, he'd have to resign himself to the fact that things would be very, very different. The chance to pursue championships may not be there, his new team could play him at a position other than his beloved shortstop, and it could also bat him lower in the order.
If it comes to this, Jeter would then have to resign himself to the fact that he'd still be playing to satisfy his vanity and little else.
He's better than that.
Or at least, that's what we've been led to believe over the last 18 years.
The Grand Conclusion
Could Jeter eventually catch Rose and become MLB's all-time hits king?
Sure he could. This is baseball. Anything can happen.
But will he?
Even if Jeter does finish this season with 215 hits to bring his total for his career to 3,303, he'll still be well off Rose's pace. He was 38 in 1979, a year in which he finished with 207 hits to push his career total to 3,372.
He then went on to play seven more seasons in the major leagues after that, collecting 884 hits while hitting .274. Right now, Jeter is only locked up for two more seasons, and whether or not he'll continue his career beyond these two seasons is the great unknown.
Even if he does, he'll still have a long way to go to catch Rose. The only way he's going to quicken the process is by playing every day and continuing to hit over .300.
Players over the age of 40 don't tend to do such things.
Jeter could finish his career in the Top Five on MLB's all-time hit list, maybe even within the Top Three if he's lucky.
But No. 1?
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