The Best Case Scenario For the Captain at Age 40
The lone active member of the Yankees' vaunted Core Four will return in 2014, as Derek Jeter has re-signed with the Bombers on a one-year, $12 million contract. The deal, which replaces his existing $9.5 million player option, was characterized as a "reward for years of good service" by ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand, though other scribes suggest luxury tax shenanigans could be the real motivation behind The Captain's effective pay raise.
Either way, the Yankees desperately need a healthy, productive Derek Jeter next year if the club is going to contend in the cut-throat AL East. Coming off surgery to repair a broken right ankle suffered in the 2012 ALCS, Jeter played in just 17 games this past season while logging DL stints for calf and quadriceps injuries. When his legs weren't betraying him, Jeter made Brendan Ryan look like an offensive dynamo by posting a .542 On-Base-Plus-Slugging percentage in 73 plate appearances.
Jeter has always hit more than his share of ground balls, but he took it to the extreme in a brief sample size in 2013 by burning worms more often (73.6 percent of pitches put in play) than any hitter in the American League. His signature inside-out stroke produced weak grounders to right side, rather than the line drives of years past.
Jeter's spray chart in 2013
While it's impossible to say whether an off-season to mend and train will revitalize Jeter, he was a solid starter as recently as 2012, when his quality bat (his park-and-league-adjusted OPS was 14 percent above average) counterbalanced his lack of range (he cost the Yankees 18 runs compared to an average defensive shortstop, according to John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved metric). History suggests that The Captain could be hard-pressed to replicate even his more modest output in '12 during his age-40 season next year.
Just two shortstops in major league history have managed to complile at least two Wins Above Replacement (WAR) during a season in their forties. Honus Wagner is the gold standard for old dude shortstops, easily topping that benchmark of offensive and defensive value at age 40 (3.5 WAR in 1914), 41 (5.5 WAR in 1915) and 42 (2.5 WAR in 1916). Luke Appling was also ageless, with 4.6 WAR at age 40 in 1947 and 5.1 WAR at age 42 in 1947 (he had 3.5 WAR at age 41, though he split his time between shortstop and third base).
Other than The Flying Dutchman and Old Aches and Pains, it's awfully slim pickings. Ozzie Smith (1.5 WAR as a 41-year-old in 1996) is the only other shortstop with even one win above replacement during a season in his forties. By that age, most guys have tumbled down the defensive spectrum or retired. Don't count him out entirely, but it would be a serious upset if Jeter pushes the Yankees toward the playoffs as a productive shortstop in 2014.