Top Derek Jeter Replacement Options as the End of an Era Hits Yankees
While this isn't a huge surprise considering he'll be 40 years old and played in only 17 games during an injury-plagued 2013, the Yankees can now know without any doubt that the Jeter era is coming to an end and will be seeking his replacement next offseason.
The timing couldn't have been better for the Yankees as the free-agent market for shortstops could be extremely deep after the season—especially compared to this offseason—and chances are high that they'll land a very good player to be Jeter's successor.
Here are 10 options to inherit Jeter's longtime title of Yankees shortstop.
10. Brendan Ryan
If Brendan Ryan is the starting shortstop for the Yankees in 2015, something went terribly wrong.
He's not a terrible option, and he's actually quite good defensively. The 31-year-old is also guaranteed $2 million and would be a nice stopgap if there were a top shortstop prospect closing in on the majors.
But there's not. And Ryan can't hit—he has a career .619 OPS and will be entering his age-32 season. The only way he's Jeter's successor is if the team decides to cut costs and not spend any money next offseason. That is very unlikely to happen.
9. Eduardo Nunez
If Eduardo Nunez is the starting shortstop in 2015, it's not because something went terribly wrong. That would be the Brendan Ryan scenario. If Nunez is Jeter's successor, it's because he had a breakout season in 2014.
While the 26-year-old Nunez, who started 69 games at shortstop last season, could very well have the opportunity to play at least semi-regularly between third base, shortstop and second base, his career .692 OPS in 270 games is a strong indicator that it's just not going to happen.
8. Yunel Escobar
With a team-friendly $5 million club option for 2015, it's highly doubtful that Yunel Escobar will become a free agent after the upcoming season. But if there's a team that could find it beneficial to save $5 million, it's Escobar's employer, the small-market Tampa Bay Rays.
The 31-year-old Escobar is also coming off of consecutive sub-.700 OPS seasons, and the Rays have a very good shortstop prospect, Hak-Ju Lee, who will likely be ready to take over.
If the Rays don't want Escobar due to a lack of production, though, why would the Yankees?
They probably wouldn't, and that's why he's No. 8 on this list. And even if he does have a good season and the Rays pick up his club option with the intention of shopping him in a trade, they're unlikely to trade him to the division rival Yankees.
7. Asdrubal Cabrera
Since a breakout season in 2011 when he hit 25 homers and knocked in 92 runs, Asdrubal Cabrera's production has declined over the past two seasons.
But the overall numbers are still very good for a shortstop, and he could be a very popular free agent next winter as long as he can, at the least, maintain what he's done the past two seasons (.731 OPS, 15 HR, 35 2B, 66 RBI per season).
The deep class of free-agent shortstops could also allow a team like the Yankees to get Cabrera at a bargain, which was not the case this offseason, as Jhonny Peralta landed a four-year, $53 million deal despite inconsistent production and a suspension related to performance-enhancing drugs.
6. Alexei Ramirez
Since the trade deadline, the White Sox have made several moves to get younger. Alexei Ramirez is still in town, though, and he's very likely to be the oldest lineup regular heading into 2015 at age 33. He'll also be due $10 million, plus another $1 million buyout on a 2016 club option.
If he has a bounce-back year after consecutive sub-.700 OPS seasons, the Sox could find an easier time moving him in a trade. Regardless, there is a good chance that the Sox will be trying to move him in order to make room for top shortstop prospect Tim Anderson, the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
The Yankees could be interested if he proves he can still be the player who posted just over a .746 OPS with an average of a little more than 17 homers and 71 runs batted in per season from 2008-2011.
5. Didi Gregorius
In a rare case of an organization having two young and talented shortstops, the Arizona Diamondbacks could look to clear things up after this season by dealing the one who is the odd man out.
Didi Gregorius (pictured) and Chris Owings are expected to battle it out for the starting job this spring, with the loser likely heading to Triple-A.
Both players have the potential to be at least average big league shortstops capable of making a few All-Star teams throughout their careers.
There won't be room for both on the major league roster, and neither would benefit from much more time in the minors. The Yankees could target either in a trade if they're unwilling to spend big on a free-agent shortstop.
4. Stephen Drew
With Stephen Drew still unsigned, there's a chance he can become the top internal candidate if the Yankees sign him to a multi-year deal prior to this season—he'd play third base in 2014 and take over for Jeter at shortstop in 2015. Or he could be off the market altogether if he signs a multi-year deal elsewhere.
The other scenario would be Drew signing a one-year deal and becoming a free agent again after the season.
After posting a .777 OPS with 13 homers for the world champion Red Sox last season, Drew has not drawn the high number of suitors that would've been expected.
With that in mind and knowing he'll have a lot more competition on the free-agent market next offseason, he and his agent are likely pushing for a multi-year deal now.
3. J.J. Hardy
The O's will try to sign shortstop J.J. Hardy to a contract extension prior to the season, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, though his price tag will be extremely high after he won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards in 2013 and was voted to the All-Star team for the second time in his career.
If they can't, they'll have to face the fact that the division rival Yankees will be just one interested team capable of outbidding them for Hardy when he becomes a free agent next winter.
2. Jed Lowrie
If Jed Lowrie can stay healthy for a second consecutive season—he played in 154 games after missing extended time in four straight seasons due to injury—he could be one of the top free agents available after the 2014 season.
And if he can at least come close to duplicating his 2013 production when he posted a .791 OPS with 15 homers and 45 doubles with the Oakland A's, there won't be many other teams other than the Yankees who will be able to pay what he'd be worth.
1. Hanley Ramirez
Hanley Ramirez told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times that he wants to be a "Dodger for life," though it's unclear if his impressive second-half performance is enough of an assurance for them to give the 30-year-old what would likely be one of the biggest contracts in baseball.
The Dodgers may have given superstar pitcher Clayton Kershaw a massive contract extension this offseason, but he's entering his age-26 season, has never shown any signs of a decline and has been as durable as any pitcher in the game since entering the league in 2008.
In the case of Ramirez, he was one of the best players in the game from 2006-2010 but his stock had dropped significantly since. He battled injuries in 2011 and was unproductive in 2012, although that may have also been due to an injury.
He only played 86 games in 2013, also because of injury, but posted a 1.040 OPS with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases when he was healthy. Who knows what to expect in 2014 and beyond?
If the Dodgers pass on giving Ramirez a contract extension, no one would blame them. But the Yankees, hoping to bring in a worthy successor to Jeter, could gladly give him the mega-deal and take on the risk that most others would not.