Since 1996, the constant for the Yankees has been world-class play at the shortstop position from their great captain, Derek Jeter. As the 2013 season approaches, it's now a possibility that Jeter may not be manning the space between third and second to start the year.
A major void to fill both in the clubhouse and on the diamond.
The Yankees may suffer more than most people think if Jeter is to miss extended periods of time. And, that's assuming Jeter will return at 100 percent health this year, even if he has to miss another couple of weeks and rejoin the team after the first 10 or 15 games.
What the sabermetricians and some fans have failed to realize with Jeter is his tremendous confidence, leadership and consistency, despite a natural decline in production over the last several years. Of course, a cursory look at the statistics will show you that Jeter is no longer the offensive force he was at age 25.
Or even age 32 for that matter.
Yet for a player of his age, who's never been an elite defensive shortstop, Jeter's offensive production on the field continues to amaze even the most hardened skeptics who have long predicted a precipitous drop in production.
Ironically, these are the same people that have sealed the Yankees' doom seemingly every year for at least the last six or seven. Conjecture similar to, "This is finally the year the Yankees start to stink." Or, "The New York Yankees will miss the Playoffs..."
Actually, didn't the Yankees win the World Series in 2009?
Jeter was easily one of the best offensive shortstops in the game last season, motoring along at the age of 38, while continuing to amass more hits, runs and team victories for the Bombers. Whenever Jeter decides to hang up the spikes, he'll undoubtedly go down as one of the best shortstops ever.
Will Derek Jeter be ready to start the season at shortstop?
And whenever Jeter suits up for play in 2013, there's still reason to believe he'll be a productive player, likely dipping somewhat from his offensive numbers last season but likely not much. For a player of his caliber, 2012 was hardly an anomaly. Merely a resurgence by a future Hall of Famer.
Yet perhaps what sticks in the craw of the number crunchers—and those who believe baseball exists on a spreadsheet— most, is that Jeter's intangibles are always what have made him truly great.
More than just a man who puts on a uniform for 20 years and adds on-field value to a baseball club.
See, you can't compute, calculate or quantify confidence and leadership. These are qualities, as many people discover in life, that you either have or you do not. Ask yourself this question—Isn't it remarkable that the Yankees have only missed the postseason once in the last 18 seasons?
That goes beyond just pouring money into an on-the-field product. Teams like the Lakers in the NBA and Cowboys in the NFL have spent boatloads of money on their teams over the same stretch of time and neither championships or postseason trips have been guaranteed.
In major American sports, the only real comparison to the consistency of the Yankees is on the hard wood, deep in the heart of Texas—the San Antonio Spurs. Like Jeter, Tim Duncan's exceptional leadership and team spirit have kept the Spurs at the top of the NBA standings nearly ever year.
Winning baseball games requires compiling a roster full of productive players that consistently produce and persevere through the good and rough patches that invariably occur during each season. Derek Jeter, has arguably excelled at this greater than any player in baseball over the last 20 years.
That's often overlooked or unacknowledged. It rubs off on the rest of the team, yet his manager is quick to point out Jeter's leadership as are players who sign with the team, like Kevin Youkilis, and cite Jeter as an attraction for why they come to the Big Apple.
Even in a sport like baseball, where the individual's contributions seem so isolated when boiled down to a particular at-bat, it's Jeter who has continued to shine brightly both on the diamond and in the clubhouse, where his presence instills confidence and a strong belief that a postseason berth is always expected.
That kind of leadership, will and confidence only come around so often. The Yankees may soon find out just how much they'll miss him all around.