As the MLB season draws to a close, one of the big storylines heading into the offseason is the impending contract of Yankee great Derek Jeter.
While it's no secret that Jeter has been the face of the Yankees franchise for the last 15 years, his future remains uncertain with the team remains uncertain. With Alex Rodriguez signed through age 42 for roughly $20 million per year, Jeter may look to replicate such a deal, which could incite bitterness on both sides if a deal can't be reached immediately.
Despite being in Major League Baseball’s most potent lineup, the veteran shortstop is only batting .262 with pedestrian 92 OPS +. Surrounded by the best talent in baseball may have cushioned Jeter’s fall from grace, but it seems his age may be truly catching up to him this year.
This recent decline can only reflect negatively on contract negotiations between Jeter’s camp and the New York Yankees. While Jeter surely has the dedication to bounce back, history suggests tthat the shortstop may have a hard time reclaiming past glory in the future.
If this year is an indication of Jeter’s future, it looks as if he may be hitting the preverbal shortstop wall. Around the age of 37, usually the player’s 15th or 16th season, the shortstop position has seen remarkable statistical decline. Regardless of whether they were offensive or defensive threats, a stark drop in the play occurred for almost all notable shortstops during this time.
The chart below compares Jeter with elite offensive shortstops in the twilight of their careers. Ryne Sandberg, albeit not a shortstop, was added because of his pioneering role as a power-hitting middle infielder that many contemporary infielders, like Jeter, have come to emulate:
Missed Due To Injury
At age 35, Alan Trammell would enjoy a career renaissance with the Tigers, after appearing in only 29 games the previous year. The Tiger great would never hit over .270 or have more than 100 hits after 1993, as he would only be active for 216 more games and retire three seasons later at 38.
While Ryne Sandberg would miss a season and a half’s worth of games from 1994-‘95, the second basemen would have a hard time returning to pre-injury form at age 36. Ryno would never match his career averages again, although he did muster 24 home runs in 1996, and would bow out of baseball just a season later.
Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken had some success as their careers wound down, but much can be attributed to that because of Ripken’s move to third and Larkin’s lack of wear and tear. While Cal holds his iron man title proudly, Larkin was his polar opposite, as it was always a fight staying on the field for him in Cincinnati. Aside from a nostalgic 86 games in 1998 when Ripken put up a .340 batting average, both of these players followed the trend of declining shortstops and would never enjoy true success in the major leagues again.
Honus Wagner provided a curious case in this comparison because of the late start to his career. Although he played 21 seasons, the Pittsburgh legend had his first full season at age 24, which was at least two years older than the other six shortstops’ debut age. If we take the age disparity into account, then Wagner's benchmarks would range from ages 37-39.
Having played shortstop until his career would finish at age 42, the Flying Dutchmen, as he was dubbed, saw a decrease in prodcutivity in the 1913 season.
After hitting .324 and .334 the previous two seasons, Wagner’s average "fell" to .300, his lowest in 15 years. His decline in batting average was accompanied by a fall in run production as well, with Wagner accumulating only 56 RBIs in 1913, down from 102 the year prior.
In his final four seasons, Honus would never hit over. 300 again and would finally hang up his cleats at the ripe age of 43.
Aside from Ripken’s outlier 1998 season, the other shortstops all saw a precipitous drop in their offensive output after the age of 35.
While it seems he may be heading down the same path as his shortstop counterparts, Jeter will need a huge showing in the season’s final two months to warrant superstar money once again.
The outcome of this season will no doubt carry over into offseason negotiations, which could leave both sides harboring feelings of resentment. For now, Jeter still has September and October to prove his worth to Yankees management, and show he still remains a marquee player at the shortstop position.
Jesse Paguaga is a regular contributor to Bleacher Report as well as Baseball Digest. He writes for Gotham Baseball, as well as Gotham Hoops and Gotham Gridiron. Follow him on his Twitter (@JPAGS77) or on his Facebook page.