Second in a series
Yesterday, I covered the current state of the Yankees front office and coaching staff. Today, let’s look at the players often referred to as the “Core Four”: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada. They’re called the Core Four for good reason. The Yankees have, over the past 15 years, won five World Series and seven AL pennants – and these players have been integral parts of all of them. Significant? Prior to the Core Four’s arrival in 1996 (Posada had a cup of coffee in ’96), the team hadn’t won anything since 1981. It’s likely that these players will go into Yankees lore alongside the great Yankee dynasties of the 20’s, 30’s 40’s and 50’s. All are aging now and three of them are free agents – but it’s almost impossible to imagine a Yankees team without them. That leaves the front office in a quandary: how to address the Core Four going forward.
Derek Jeter: The Captain is the face of the franchise. He holds the Yankee franchise record for career hits and 200 hit seasons and is on the cusp of doing something nobody has ever done in pinstripes: collect his 3,000th career hit. From the iconic dive into the stands aganst the Red Sox, to his backhanded flip to nail Jason Giambi in the 2001 Divisional Series to the improbable Jeffrey Maier home run, it seems Jeter has been a part of every Yankee memory since his arrival in 1996.
As hard as it is to fathom, Jeter is 36 and will be 37 in June. He enters free agency coming off what might be his worst all-around season in the big leagues, with career lows in batting average (.270), slugging (.370) and on-base percentage (.340). He also banged into 22 double-plays in 2010 and only stole 18 bases. In the field, Jeter logged his most innings at shortstop since 2007 – and the results weren’t pretty, with decreasing range as the months went along. While it is unfathomable that the Yankee brass would shove Jeter out the door, there are two very real issues with resigning him. The first is how much do you pay an 11 time all-star and future Hall of Famer, who has meant more to your team than any other player over the past twenty years – and how long do you pay him? Jeter is coming off a contract that paid him in excess of $120 million over the past 6 years; it seems likely he’ll see the same average annual salary, but my guess is it will only be for 3 years and with some of the money deferred. The other question is how the Yankees approach asking Jeter to give up his death grip on short – and where/when they move him. Left field seems out of the question, with Brett Gardner there now (and the very real possibility of Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth signing this offseason). Jeter has never wanted to move to second, and Robinson Cano is there, anyway. Third is manned by Alex Rodriguez. The most likely scenario has Jeter the regular shortstop through 2011 – let’s face it, there aren’t any real replacements in the system, anyway – and potentially moving to splitting time at short with a young SS and DH with Jesus Montero after that.
Mariano Rivera: Who is the greatest failed starting pitcher in major league history?
The longest tenured of the Core Four, most fans forget he came up in 1995 as a string bean skinny starting pitcher with a good fastball, but not much else. And he got hit hard, posting a 5.51 ERA that year. If for no other reason, Joe Torre
deserves to be in the Hall of Fame for moving him into the bullpen in 1996, as John Wetteland‘s set-up man. By ’97, Rivera was the closer – and the definition of the role changed forever after the move. Unlike Jeter or Posada, Mo shows few signs of slowing down or letting age affect him – other than the slightly more frequent muscle strains. He remains baseball’s ultimate weapon, since every team realizes if you let the Yankees get to the ninth with a lead, you’re done. The big questions with Rivera remain how long can he continue defy Father Time and how much longer will he want to? Rivera made $15 million last year. It seems unfathomable that any team would pay a 40 year old closer that kind of money in today’s market, but the Yankees very well might. And then cross their fingers that Mo has more Satchel Paige in him. In case you never heard of him, Paige is famous for the quote, “Never look back. They might be gaining on you” in reference to his longevity. (Although nobody knows for certain, it’s generally accepted that he pitched in the majors until he was 59).
Andy Pettite: Perhaps the greatest post-season pitcher in history, this is the one member of the Core Four with the most uncertainty about his status for 2011. Will he retire or will he come back for one more hurrah? Pettite is taking some time to mull over his decision and has often said that it ultimately rests on his family. Yankee fans everywhere are hoping his Yankee family can pull him back for one more season. How good has Pettite been? He is the all-time leader in post-season wins, starts, innings and has pitched some of the most memorable games in Yankee history, including the deciding games in all three series in 2009. He is a three-time all-star and borderline Hall of Fame candidate, with 240 career wins. More importantly for 2011, the Yankees need to know if Pettite is coming back before they can finalize next year’s starting rotation. There is some concern regarding his age and injuries, since he’s missed significant time each of the past three seasons with injuries. But there is little doubt that the Yankees would be a better team with him in 2011 than without.
Jorge Posada: At 39, Posada is the only member of the Core Four signed for next season. Another borderline Hall of Famer, Posada suffered through one of his worst seasons in 2010. He drove in only 57 runs in 2010, tying with 1999 for a career low when garnering at least 400 AB’s. His .248 average was 27 points below his career average. Age is a real concern with Posada, who plays a position known for taking a toll on players. Few catchers age gracefully, and when they decline, it tends to be a rapid descent. Defensively, Jorge was never known as a smooth fielder – but this past year was painful to watch, with Posada throwing out only 15% of attempted base stealers and charged with 8 passed balls. The injuries of the past few seasons have taken their toll, and Posada no longer moves with anything resembling grace behind the plate. So the question going forward is how to begin easing him out of the regular catcher role? The team tried to insert Francisco Cervelli into more starts this year, but all that did was prove that Cervelli is likely a career backup. 2011 promises the long-awaited arrival of Jesus Montero, but all of the reports regarding Montero’s defensive prowess hardly make him out to be the next Thurman Munson. Will Posada accept more DH time and less catching time for younger version of himself? Posada has long taken pride in his defensive game and is known for stubbornness. It’s served him well in the past – but the question is, how well it serve the Yankees going forward?
Yesterday: Front Office/Management
Read Full Post »