Derek Jeter will turn 40 during the 2014 season, but that does not mean his impact on the New York Yankees should be expected to diminish. In 2012, Jeter led the league in hits (216) as a 38 year old. His presence on and off the field was missed by the Yankees in 2013, and it showed. The team missed the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years and struggled to fill seats throughout the season. That will not be the case when Jeter comes back healthy in 2014.
The return of Jeter solidifies the top of the Yankees’ batting order. With a .312 career batting average, the shortstop serves as a reliable bat in his usual No. 2 spot. With Brett Gardner likely hitting in the No. 9 spot and Jacoby Ellsbury leading off, Jeter will frequently have the opportunity to not only advance runners, but to drive in runs as well.
This production at the top of the order will undoubtedly have a positive impact on Yankees’ power hitters, a group that lacked production during the previous season. For the first time since the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, the Bombers failed to live up to their nickname, finishing 22nd in HR’s as a team (144) and 18th in RBI (614) in 2013. With the return of a healthy Jeter, the Yankees’ big bats will produce once again in 2014.
Jeter’s impact will also be felt on defense. Although the shortstop’s defense has clearly declined over the past few seasons, he will stabilize a Yankees infield that recently lost star second baseman Robinson Cano to free agency, and may lose oft criticized third baseman Alex Rodriguez to suspension. The Yankees infield play was sloppy during the 2013 season. Jason Nix and Eduardo Nunez did their best as they bounced around the infield, but Jeter’s absence was clearly felt. As porous as the aging stars’ defense has become over the years, Jeter is a definite upgrade from the players that would otherwise be taking his position.
Lastly, and least importantly, Jeter puts fans in the seats. Injuries to star players in 2013 caused the Yankees to have less fans in attendance than any other previous season in the new ballpark (40,488 per game). People weren’t interested in paying high prices for tickets to watch a mediocre team. The return of Jeter and first baseman Mark Texeria, as well as the additions of newly acquired veterans Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran will surely make up for that lack of star power and result in increased attendance in 2014.
It is clear that the Yankees missed their captain in 2013. Jeter’s healthy return to the field will impact the team on numerous fronts in 2014. His absence in the lineup, on the field, and in the clubhouse cannot be replaced. Jeter’s return is vital to success in the Bronx this upcoming season.