Is Derek Jeter the Last of New York Yankees' Homegrown Immortals?

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterFebruary 12, 2014

With fellow greats Mariano Rivera (left) and Andy Pettitte (center) already gone, Derek Jeter may just be the last homegrown Yankees legend for some time.
With fellow greats Mariano Rivera (left) and Andy Pettitte (center) already gone, Derek Jeter may just be the last homegrown Yankees legend for some time.Al Bello/Getty Images

For the New York Yankeesthe lineage of legends is a very long and linked line, one that extends from, among others, Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Yogi Berra to Mickey Mantle to Thurman Munson to Don Mattingly.

And now the latest link, Derek Jeter, is leaving.

The longtime Yankees captain announced via Facebook on Wednesday that the 2014 season will be the 20th—and final—of his career. Jeter, who will be turning 40 on June 26, missed most of last year while trying to recover from an ankle injury sustained during the 2012 postseason.

In his message, Jeter wrote:

It was months ago when I realized that this season would likely be my last. As I came to this conclusion and shared it with my friends and family, they all told me to hold off saying anything until I was absolutely 100-percent sure. And the thing is, I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart.

Heading into 2014, Jeter is tied with Mariano Rivera, who retired at the end of 2013, for the most seasons played with the Yankees at 19, one more than Mantle and Berra.

The question is: Now that Jeter's incredibly long run with arguably the most famous franchise in sports is just about over, will there be another homegrown star to follow in his footsteps and continue this yarn of Yankees immortals?

Most Games Played in New York Yankees History
PLAYER# GAMESFROMTO
Derek Jeter2,602 (and counting)19952014
Mickey Mantle2,40119511968
Lou Gehrig2,16419231939
Yogi Berra2,11619461963
Babe Ruth2,08419201934
Bernie Williams2,07619912006
Roy White1,88119651979
Jorge Posada1,82919952011
Bill Dickey*1,78919281946
Don Mattingly1,78519821995
Joe DiMaggio**1,73619361951
*Did not play from 1944-1945
**Did not play from 1943-1945
MLB.com

That's a daunting concept to consider, especially given all of the turnover the Yankees organization is going through at the moment.

This offseason alone has brought (deep breath here) the end of the line for Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the loss via free agency of star Robinson Cano, the enforced temporary hiatus of Alex Rodriguez, the importing of Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka...and now this preemptive good-bye from Jeter.

It's both fitting and ironic, then, that the player next in line for this mantle, Cano—the last great homegrown Yankee—just so happened to walk away from the team by signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Robinson Cano would have been next in line to take the torch from Derek Jeter—had he not left for Seattle.
Robinson Cano would have been next in line to take the torch from Derek Jeter—had he not left for Seattle.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Cano's surprising departure only serves as yet another example of how much baseball has changed and how hard it is to draft, develop and maintain top talent what with the nonstop player movement and ever-rising cost of contracts.

Sure, every now and then a homegrown cornerstone player stays with the same team for the long haul, like a Cal Ripken Jr. or Tony Gwynn from the previous generation, or a Dustin Pedroia or Joe Mauer from the current one.

Heck, the Yankees were extraordinarily lucky to more or less have four arrive at the same time in Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Jorge Posada. (Although his start time predated that quartet, Bernie Williams merits mention, too.)

But let's be real: Those are the exceptions.

Fact is, there simply is no clear pinstriped successor to Jeter. Other than Cano, the last position player to be drafted, developed and turned into a starter by the Yankees is Brett Gardner, who was selected all the way back in 2005—practically a decade ago.

Will top prospect Gary Sanchez be able to follow in Derek Jeter's footsteps?
Will top prospect Gary Sanchez be able to follow in Derek Jeter's footsteps?The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

On the pitching side, even one-time top prospects like Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain didn't turn out to be much in the end. Plus, they too up and left, joining in this winter's exodus by signing with the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers, respectively.

Even worse, in its quest to supply the next great Yankee at a time when one is sorely needed to rally around, the farm system is failing. And failing miserably.

In that department, the organization ranks in the bottom half among all of baseball, according to those who analyze and study prospects, including Baseball America (No. 16), Keith Law of ESPN (No. 20; subscription required) and fellow Bleacher Report MLB Lead Writer Mike Rosenbaum (No. 22).

Many of the club's top youngsters, like catcher Gary Sanchez, third baseman Eric Jagielo and outfielders Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Aaron Judge, are at least a full season or two from being ready to debut in the majors, much less contribute as impact everyday players. That is, if they weren't just drafted last June and thus further away still.

Sure, Tanaka will be stepping right into the rotation—not to mention, a chance to be the franchise face—from Day 1. But the right-hander is already 25 and pitched professionally in Japan for several seasons, so even if he is the next Yankees star, he's not exactly of the homegrown variety.

New Yankee Masahiro Tanaka could be the team's next star—but he's not a homegrown one.
New Yankee Masahiro Tanaka could be the team's next star—but he's not a homegrown one.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

And so for the Yankees and their fans, the wait is on for some young, homegrown, talented superstar-in-the-making to emerge from the shadowy depths of a farm system that has struggled to harvest much in recent years.

To this point, the baton that has been passed down the long line of Yankees lineage across eras and generations with few if any gaps along the way is resting in the hands of Derek Jeter, who will be gone at season's end.

If only he had another Jeter to hand it to before he goes.

 

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11