Jeter, still on the shelf nursing an ankle injury he sustained in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers last season, is signed through 2013 but holds a player option for 2014. While there's no indication that this will be his last contract, he will be 40 years old by the time the 2014 season ends.
Rodriguez and his albatross of a contract still have several more years remaining. He will not be a free agent until the end of the 2017 season, at which point he'll be 41 years old. There's little chance he retires before that time and, given the absurdity of his contract, there's little chance the Yankees will be able to find a trade partner.
The most logical option would be to make Rodriguez the full-time designated hitter as early as next season. This would open up third base for a much younger (and presumably healthier) player. The last thing the Yankees want is a revolving-door scenario at one of the more prominent positions on the diamond, so you can be sure they'll be looking for a long-term option.
There are several candidates both in-house and potentially on the market that the Yankees could look toward to replace both Jeter and Rodriguez.
In-House Options at Short
Projecting in-house options is extremely difficult. There's no telling the twists and turns that high-profile minor leaguers could make prior to being called up to the big show. Even still, there are a few players in the Yankees organization that have the potential to be solid everyday players.
For starters, Eduardo Nunez may be the most logical option at this point to replace Jeter. He's doing just that with Derek on the disabled list, and he's really not performing that terribly. Defense has been his weakness early on. It looks as if he's made improvements this season, however, so that should be a great sign for both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman.
Offensively, he swings a pretty decent stick. He has a career line of .264/.313/.366 in 497 at-bats, with a low on-base percentage reflecting his free-swinging mentality. His propensity to chase balls out of the strike zone is something he needs to work on for his career to progress to the next level. Speed is also an integral part of his offensive game, stealing 40 bases over the course of his four-year career.
In the minors, the Yankees have three shortstop within their top-20 prospects. Austin Aune, Cito Culver and Yadil Mujica all bring different things to the table.
Aune has little power, hitting just one home run in 139 at-bats in 2012. He did hit .273/.358/.410 during his first season in the organization, though, so it's clear that his ability to get on base is advanced beyond his years. Young players generally have problems getting on base consistently—not Aune.
Culver has yet to pan out in the minors. He's been in the organization since 2010 and has posted a career line of .233/.323/.315. He offers little defensively as well, committing 64 errors in 1,155 career changes (.945 fielding percentage).
Culver likely won't be Jeter's future replacement.
Of the three prospects, 28-year-old Yadil Mujica may have the best chance. A Cuban import that's played just two seasons in the organization, Mujica hit .308/.357/.385 in 13 games at Triple-A last season. He's a contact hitter with plus speed and gives the Yankees a potential No. 2 hitter should he continue to progress.
The problem with Cuban players is that the pitching in Cuba is not nearly on par with the pitching in the States. Hitters like Mujica need to make far more adjustments than your average major leaguer upon being promoted to the bigs.
In-House Options at Third
There are two names that stand out in the Yankees system at the hot corner—Tyler Austin and Dante Bichette Jr.
Bichette Jr. showed promise in 2011 (his first professional season), hitting .335/.440/.407 with four home runs, 48 RBI and 17 doubles in 203 at-bats. This prompted a promotion to Single-A Charleston in 2012. He's played there since.
At Single-A, Bichette Jr. has posted a line of .239/.313/.325 with five home runs and 62 RBI. His offensive skills still need some work. If he can't handle Single-A pitching, then he certainly can't handle major league pitching.
He has a ton of potential, but it looks as if he's still several years away from cracking the big league team.
That leaves the team with Austin, a player who has risen up the Yankees' prospect charts over the past several seasons. Simply put, his development is astounding.
In three-plus seasons in the Yankees system, Austin owns a line of .323/.404/.541 with 24 home runs, 128 RBI, 58 doubles and 42 stolen bases. He very may well be the best pure hitter on any of the Yankees' minor league clubs. Austin has gotten the start at Double-A Trenton this season, so he's likely one more full season away from making an impact.
His bat seems like it's certainly ready, but his defense needs just a little bit of work. Austin has played first base, both corner outfield positions and third base in the system, so he'll need consistent reps at third before being ready to be an everyday major leaguer. When he's ready, he represents the most logical in-house option to replace Rodriguez.
Possible Acquisitions for Short
Shortstop is a premium position in baseball, and there aren't all that many players worth giving up the farm for. One such player is top prospect Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers (which I highlighted last week), but such a trade remains unlikely.
The package would have to be massive, and there are many other teams that could pony up more talent than the Yankees may be willing to.
A more realistic option to replace Jeter from outside of the organization would have to come from the free-agent market. Asdrubal Cabrera (29), J.J. Hardy (32) and Jed Lowrie (31) will all be free agents at the close of the 2014 season, and all three represent smart signings. (Note: The ages in parentheses represent their age at the time of free agency.)
Cabrera is my least favorite of the three. He's had problems staying healthy in the past and has really only posted one good season in his seven-year career. Throw in the fact that he strikes out a good amount (119 times in 2011), and I'd prefer if Cashman passed on him.
Hardy offers the most defensively, and that would be a nice change after having Jeter play short for nearly the past two decades. Derek isn't a terrible defender, but we know there's better defending in the league.
He's not necessarily a slouch with the bat either, but his inconsistencies in nine major league seasons scare me. Hardy has a powerful bat and can drive the ball to all fields, but he's never been one to get on base consistently. His career OBP of .312 doesn't exactly fit in with the Yankee mold.
All that being said, I like Lowrie as a possible replacement. He's been riddled with injury and inconsistency early on in his career, but it looks as if he's finally breaking out in his first season with the Oakland Athletics. Through 82 at-bats, he sports a line of .366/.441/.585 with three home runs, 14 RBI and a league-leading 30 hits.
Lowrie has always had the potential to be an above-average major leaguer. It's always just been a matter of him staying on the field and putting it all together. If he can do that in 2013, then the Yankees should go after him when he hits the open market.
Possible Acquisitions for Third
The upcoming free-agent class offers no young talent at the hot corner. All the players available are either well into their 30s or role players at best. The following free-agent class has two names that stand out.
Pablo Sandoval (28) and Chase Headley (31) are top talents who could be coaxed to come to New York for the right price.
While there isn't anything in the works as of yet, I fully expect the San Francisco Giants to either work out an extension with Sandoval or re-sign him after his contract expires. He's been a cornerstone of the franchise for the past several seasons and is a fan favorite. Plus, his weight issues scare me enough to let another team gamble on him.
That leaves Headley as the best option, though he's one that could presumably be acquired via trade before he hits the open market. The Yankees have already inquired about the young third baseman, but it remains to be seen how willing the San Diego Padres will be to deal him.
Headley would be a huge acquisition for the Yankees. Once regarded as a top-notch offensive prospect, he finally put it all together in 2012, his sixth season in the league.
He led the National League with 115 RBI while crushing 31 home runs and posting a line of .286/.376/.498. Headley could be the heir apparent to Rodriguez at third for the next five to six seasons given his age, and there's plenty of reason to believe that there wouldn't even be a drop-off in production between the two.
Should Headley be acquired before he hits free agency, it would signal the end of Rodriguez's days as a position player. He'd likely be relegated to full-time DH duty, with days off coming when Jeter or Mark Teixeira need a half-day off.
What to Make of It All
If you take anything away from this piece, let it be that the Yankees have a ton of options to replace Jeter and Rodriguez moving forward.
Replacing A-Rod at third may be a more pressing issue considering the lack of talent available, but replacing Jeter shouldn't be something to worry about. There's no telling if he'll choose to come back and play on a year-to-year basis, so the Yankees could presumably be given three or four more seasons to find their next shortstop.
Be sure that Cashman will analyze all options and choose the best men for the job, Yankees fans. Replacing Jeter and Rodriguez won't be easy, but there are talented guys who can be productive in New York.
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