Derek Jeter’s off year, which may in fact signify the end Jeter’s time as a productive hitter as well as Jorge Posada no longer being able to catch full time means that the Yankees will soon need to figure out how to win without two of the greatest players ever to wear the pinstripes.
Jeter and Posada have played together on four championship teams, 1998-2000 and 2009. Posada only appeared in eight games 1996 so cannot really be considered to have been a part of that team. During those four seasons, the Yankees received extraordinary offensive contributions from catcher and shortstop, generally the two positions from which the least offense is expected. Posada posted OPS+ 115, 91, 139 and 133. Jeter’s numbers were an even better 127, 153, 128 and 132. This kind of production from Jeter and Posada has been a Yankee constant since Posada became a regular in 1998.
Posada and Jeter’s offensive production took a great deal of pressure off of the rest of the Yankee offense during theoe years. The late 1990s are already more than a decade ago, so it is often forgotten that those Yankee teams did not always get great production from what are usually thought of as important offensive positions such as first base, DH and the corner outfield positions. The 1998 team was an extraordinary team with no real weaknesses, but their worst hitter was left fielder Chad Curtis who posted an OPS+ of 90. However, in 1999, the players most often used at DH, LF, RF, 1b and 3b, all posted OPS+ of 110 or lower. These are extraordinarily poor numbers for a World Championship team, especially for one which won 98 regular season games and finished third in the league in runs scored. The 2000 team was similar as none of the players who played those five positions most frequently had an OPS+ of even 100. The offense in 2000, which scored 871 runs, good enough for sixth in the league, came from the catcher, shortstop, centerfielder and a handful of part time players. The 2009 team, however, hit from top to bottom and was the most balanced Yankee offense to win a championship since 1998.
From 1998-1999, Posada and Jeter both OPS+ of 125 while catching 1,436 and playing shortstop for 1,800 games. No team in the history of the game has ever had a middle infielder and catcher who played together that long and hit that well. It is axiomatic that both players will be very difficult to replace. Moreover, producing Jeter and Posada at around the same time and having the sense to play them at shortstop and catcher despite their defensive foibles has been more integral to the team’s success in the last decade or so than their huge spending advantage.
The Yankees ability to spend money has helped them secure the services of key sluggers such as Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and others for several years at a time, as well as valuable pitchers like Mike Mussina or CC Sabbathia. Money cannot buy the stability and production at key positions which Jeter and Posada have provided because those types of players are rare. Moreover, it is not hard to identify free agent hitters who will be reliably pretty good, but much more difficult to identify the ones who will be truly dominant, but this is precisely what the Yankees will have to do to compensate for the end of Jeter and Posada’s productive years.
Jeter may still surprise many people and have one or two good years left; and Posada could get healthy and durable again. Most Yankee fans would be very happy with the Jeter of 2006-2008, when he was not quite as good as in 2009 and 120 games behind the plate from Posada. This would obviously be the best outcome for the team, but it is not likely. Instead the team must come up with a new formula for the post-Jeter and Posada era.