After a season in which Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte each declared their retirements, Derek Jeter is the lone remaining core member of the New York Yankees’ last dynasty. When the Yankees recently signed Jeter to a one-year deal, one subject of debate was whether he was worth what they paid. This, to me, misses the point.
Despite important and high-profile player acquisitions, the key to the Yankees’ recent dynasty was the impact of their “Core Four”: Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Jorge Posada. These perennial All-Stars were the glue that kept the team together through ups, downs, injuries and the occasional scandal. As the team’s captain and longest-tenured member, Derek Jeter became the engine of a dynasty that spanned over a decade. This was despite not being particularly spectacular defensively, and never really turning heads with power or speed. One salient aspect of Derek Jeter’s greatness is he’s achieved it despite not being as powerful as A-Rod, as athletic as Troy Tulowitzki or as fast as Jose Reyes. In recent years, Jeter has been plagued by injuries that have limited his playing time and production. Still, the Yankees have fed off his presence.
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The Yankees face a transitional period. They’re not sure if Curtis Granderson or Robinson Cano will stick around, and they’re waiting for young talent to blossom. The American League East is one of baseball’s toughest divisions, and the Boston Red Sox just won the 2013 World Series. As they try to transition smoothly, the Yankees need the leadership and presence that Derek Jeter provides. If he begins the 2014 season healthy, he’s unlikely to repeat the poor numbers he put up in 2013, and this would make him a better option than anyone the Yankees have played in his absence. He’ll also continue to provide star power and serve as the face of the franchise, taking pressure off teammates. This will make manager Joe Girardi‘s job easier.
Derek Jeter’s presence still exceeds his on-paper worth. The Yankees were smart to keep him around.