By Father Gabe Costa
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On Sunday, the Yankees celebrated Derek Jeter, the fact of the franchise who is retiring at the end of the season.
The weather was great at Yankee Stadium, and the ceremony moved at a perfect pace. The captain was his usual classy self and another chapter of Yankees folklore was written. Jeter’s No. 2 will rightfully be retired, and in a little over five years he will be getting a call informing him that he’s been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. And, as we have discussed in the past, it is quite possible that when he finally hangs up his spikes in a few weeks, he will be considered the greatest shortstop in history.
The game that ensued, however, did not follow the script. For the second time in three days, Yankees pitching yielded no earned runs. Yet the Bombers, a designation which certainly doesn’t apply this year, had nothing to show for it, losing both Friday night’s contest and Sunday’s matinee to the Kansas City Royals.
Mathematically, of course, the Yankees are still in the running and could theoretically appear in postseason play. But, to most observers, that seems unlikely.
So, as we mull over this year, let us also take a premature look at next year in anticipation of life without Jeter in 2015.
• The number one issue, of course, has been hitting. The trio of Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann has to provide more than roughly 60 home runs. Their batting averages must get at least into the .250-.265 range. And they are going to have to deal with the shift in a much more proactive way.
• Regarding the infield, the key question is, “Who is going to replace Jeter?” I suspect there will be a lot of moving parts, some trial-and-error and maybe a trade to two before we know the starting second baseman, shortstop and third baseman at the end of next March. Teixeira has always excelled defensively, but he will be 35 years old in April of 2015. Where will the likes of Martin Prado, Chase Headley and Stephen Drew fit in?
• Two-thirds of the outfield seems set. Jacoby Ellsbury was more durable in 2014 than expected and Brett Gardner had a good year, showing some pop in his bat. I doubt that Beltran will be able to play the outfield regularly, and Ichiro Suzuki will almost certainly be gone in 2015.
• The catching seems solid with McCann and Francisco Cervelli, assuming the Yankees make no big changes behind the plate.
• Regarding the pitching, when we realize that 4/5ths of the starting rotation was hurt, the fact that the Yankees stayed in the race for so long was miraculous. And with Dellin Betances and David Robertson anchoring the bullpen, this does not seem to be a critical issue for next year.
• The bench? Joe Girardi will probably be doing a lot of mixing, matching and platooning.
• As for A-Rod, who knows? Can he play the field? How much has his bat speed slowed up? As he pushes towards 40 years old, I feel that his impact will probably be minimal both on and off the field.
• Masahiro Tanaka? Barring injuries, he could be the next face of the franchise.
• And Girardi? I think he did a great job this year. In spite of the myriad of injuries, the dearth of hitting and the less-than-stellar fielding and baserunning mistakes that would make the Bad News Bears blush, the skipper never panicked. His club, as of this writing, is less than five games out of the running for the second Wild Card berth in the American League.
Have I given up on 2014? No!
And, as Dr. Yogi Berra — the great philosopher — has proclaimed, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
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