That was one hell of a ride.
Derek Jeter‘s final home game last night was the most watched game broadcast in the history of the YES Network, the network announced. The game averaged 1.25 million viewers in New York and peaked at 1.99 million viewers from 10:15-10:30pm ET. That works out to an average 10.84 Nielsen rating and a peak 16.55 Nielsen rating. The previous record was held by the second game of the 2005 season (1.21 million viewers). Can’t say I’m surprised. Jeter is one hell of a draw.
Last night was almost too good to be true. It was the kind of ending that would be totally cheesy if I saw it in a movie, but I saw it with my own eyes in real life and it was amazing. Derek Jeter inside-outing a walk-off single to right field in his final game at Yankee Stadium is just perfect. Too perfect. It’s magic. There’s no other way to describe it. Pure baseball magic.
Like you, I’m going to remember that game for the rest of my life, but not just for the ending. I mentioned this in the game recap last night — I’m also going to remember seeing Jeter show more emotion than I can ever remember. He literally jumped for joy following the walk-off single and the only other time I can remember him doing that was when the Yankees won the World Series. Cameras caught Jeter fighting back tears as fans chanted his name in the ninth inning:
That is not the Derek Jeter face we’re used to seeing. We’re used to stone-faced, all business, we’ve got a job to do Derek Jeter. The YES Network broadcast showed both Joe Girardi and Mark Teixeira with tears in their eyes that inning, but I guess being on the verge of tears is the most we’ll get out of Derek. Jeter spoke about fighting back the tears following the game and I thought his quotes were interesting, so I want to pass them along. Courtesy of Chad Jennings:
“There were a couple of times I almost lost it,” Jeter said. “First inning I was saying, please don’t hit it to me. The last inning I almost lost it. Same thing. I don’t know how many times in my career I’ve said, please don’t hit it to me, but that’s what was going on in my mind. I really thought I was going to break down.”
“I almost started crying driving here today,” Jeter said. “I was by myself, so I could have lost it and no one would have seen it. My teammates presented me with something before the game. I almost lost it and I had to turn around. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout the course of my career. I have them, I try to hide them, I try to trick myself and convince myself that I’m not feeling those particular emotions whether it’s nerves, whether I’m injured; pain. I just try to trick myself that I don’t have it.
“Today, I wasn’t able to do it. It’s been getting more and more difficult these last few weeks, but today I wasn’t able to do it. I don’t know if the cameras were on me close, but there were a couple times I almost broke down. I was almost thinking to myself, ‘Joe, get me out of here before I do something to cost us this game.’ It’s funny how things change, I guess.”
I can’t imagine what last night — and these last few weeks, really — felt like for Jeter. Outside of a little fist pump following the final out of every win, he rarely showed emotion on the field, so being on the verge of tears on the field in front of a nationally televised audience means he was playing with a very heavy heart. Jeter even said these last few weeks were like “watching your own funeral.” That’s some heavy stuff.
I could be wrong, but it appeared to me Jeter was a little more laid back on the field this year. More smiles, more joking around with teammates and opponents who happened to make their way to second base. It seemed like he was more relaxed in his final season, like he decided to enjoy this year a little more and cherish the comradery. Almost every retired player says they miss the comradery more than anything once their playing days are over. It seems like Jeter went out of his way to enjoy being around his peers this year.
Last night was on the other end of the emotional spectrum. There weren’t any smiles or jokes exchanged, it was raw emotion on an iconic stage. It was a side of Jeter we never got to see these last 20 years and that’s part of reason it will be so memorable. We have a tendency to see athletes as invincible and Jeter has been the model of the invincible athlete throughout his career. Last night was our first and only real look behind the curtain, to the human side of Derek Jeter.
Seven questions and six answers this week, the final mailbag of the 2014 regular season. Don’t worry, the mailbag continues in the offseason. This is a year ’round feature. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Dustin asks: If the Yankees prefer a long-term solution at shortstop to a free agent, what would it take to pry either Starlin Castro or Addison Russell from the Cubs?
Even though there are a ton of quality shortstops set to hit free agency this winter, I think trading for a younger, more long-term solution at the position is something the Yankees should pursue. The Diamondbacks and Cubs have a stockpile of young shortstops but Chicago’s group is better, mostly because they’re more high-ceiling players. I like Chris Owings a lot, but he’s no Castro or Russell. Or even Javier Baez, who’s been awful so far in his MLB career (51 wRC+ and 41.9 K%) and has always had very high bust potential because of his plate indiscipline.
Castro, who is still only 24, rebounded nicely from his down 2013 season to hit .292/.339/.438 (115 wRC+) with 14 homers this year. He’s played in 740 of 778 possible games since making his debut — most of his missed games have come this month due to an ankle sprain — and while he’s not a great defender, he isn’t as bad as his reputation either. Plus he’s under contract through 2019 for a total of $44M. Castro is young, he’s productive, he’s durable, and he’s signed cheaply for another half-decade. He’s someone the Yankees should be very interested in if he’s made available.
Russell is just the prospect, on the other hand. A great prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. He is a riskier of the two shortstops. The price for Russell has already been established, right? Basically a Jeff Samardzija caliber pitcher. It’s worth noting the Cubs balked when the Phillies asked for Russell in Cole Hamels trade talks last month, according to Gordon Wittenmyer. (Hamels’ salary came into play there.) Castro should be similarly expensive. The Yankees aren’t getting these guys with David Phelps and a prospect. Michael Pineda would have to be on the table and you know what? I’m not against that given his shoulder history. I’d prefer Castro to Russell ever so slightly but would be thrilled with either.
nycsportzfan asks: I was wondering if you thought we should trade Shane Greene while his value could be at his greatest this offseason? He could be almost a centerpiece for a mid-rotation guy (Matt Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, etc.), really.
Mark asks: Would you rather see the Yankees sign a big free agent starter this offseason or acquire a starter in a trade. Some of the Reds’ starters could be interesting targets.
Gonna lump these two together. Greene was very good this season up until his disaster final starter earlier this week. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading him at all but the Yankees can’t afford to give him away either. Their 2015 rotation options are risky and they’ll need the depth. I also don’t think his trade value is high enough to be the centerpiece of a package for a guy like Latos or Ross either. Greene is only one year younger than Latos and two years younger than Ross, remember. We’re not talking about a 22 or 23-year-old here. I’m not sure his trade value is all that high on his own. Definitely not high enough to land a real difference maker.
Four of the Reds’ five starting pitchers are due to be free agents after next season — Latos, Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Alfredo Simon. They do have Homer Bailey signed long-term and Tony Cingrani under team control, but still, losing four starters is tough. Cincinnati is a medium payroll team ($114M in 2014) that already has $70M on the books for just four players in 2016 (Bailey, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips), so re-signing all four of those starters will be impossible. Heck, re-signing just one of Latos or Cueto will be tough. Speculation is they will trade at least one of those two to clear payroll and fill other roster holes this winter and obviously either would make sense for the Yankees. Expect a lot of trade chatter about the Reds’ starters this winter and expect the Bombers to be involved.
Yeah, that rotation would be pretty dynamite in a short series, at least on paper. Who knows what would happen in the actual games. I’d use Kuroda as the fourth starter and put Greene in the bullpen as a multi-inning guy. Joe Girardi would be able to lean heavily on David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren in a short postseason series with built in off-days, so the pitching staff could have been excellent. Too bad the Yankees couldn’t hit at all this year. Thinking about what could have been with this pitching staff is a bummer.
Kevin asks: I have forever been against the idea of a 6-man rotation, however going to next year I don’t think it could make much more sense. CC Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka and Kuroda (aqssuming return) would all benefit greatly from the extra day for one reason or another. What are your thoughts and do you see the Yankees pursuing this?
There have already been reports indicating the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation for next season as way to give their starters extra rest. Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), Phelps (elbow), Sabathia (knee), and Ivan Nova (elbow) all have injury concerns and could benefit from working in a six-man rotation. How much would the extra day of rest help keep them healthy? Who knows. It’s worth noting pitchers across the league this year have actually performed slightly worst with an extra day of rest than on normal rest.
The Yankees would have to use a three-man bench to make a six-man rotation happen — nothing they’ve done in recent years makes me think they would go with a four-man bench and a six-man bullpen — and that’s doable because players like Martin Prado provide some versatility. They’d have to come up with a similarly versatile backup infielder and have a backup catcher who could maybe play a little first base and left field. I don’t love the idea of taking starts away from Tanaka and Pineda — the difference between a five-man rotation and a six-man rotation is about five starts across the 162-game season — but if it helps keep them healthy, it might be the best course of action. I don’t think there’s a clear right answer here. This is a very debatable topic.
Stephen asks: Now that we know how many we’ll have this season, I’m curious what the percentage is for how many of Jeter’s games played were “meaningless games” — those in which the Yankees were already eliminated from postseason contention. I’d bet it’s probably close to 1%, right?
The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention in Game 157 back in 2008 and in Game 158 this year, so that’s nine meaningless games between those two seasons. Jeter was injured last year when the Yankees were eliminated and didn’t play in any of those meaningless games. He’s played 2,745 total regular season games in his career, so less than 1% have been meaningless — 0.0033% of his games have come with the Yankees mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. That is: crazy.
Randy asks: Do you think Jeter will get a monument? Do you think he deserves one?
I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.
Baseball is just the best.
Derek Jeter will play the final home game of his career later tonight. Pretty much the only silver lining to being eliminated from postseason contention yesterday is that everyone will now be able to focus on Jeter and not the outcome of the game. (Not that Jeter’s retirement was lacking coverage or anything.) Here are a few random thoughts prior to the Cap’n’s last game in Yankee Stadium.
1. First things first: today’s weather forecast is not so good. Last I checked, there was a 70% chance of rain throughout the day before dropping to 20% later this evening. The tarp was put on the field immediately following yesterday afternoon’s game. Because the Yankees have been bounced from playoff contention and the Orioles have already clinched the AL East title (and are just about locked into the second best record in the league), this game normally would not be made up if it is rained out. It’s meaningless to the final standings. A league spokesman told Brendan Kuty that “all efforts will be made to get the game in” tonight and there have been no discussions about what would happen if it is rained out, nor should there be. There’s no way the league would force them to make the game up next week just to honor Jeter. It’s not fair to the postseason-bound Orioles, for starters. The weather is the weather and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it. I’m just going to put my faith in the baseball gods and hope the skies clear up enough at some point.
2. I and I think everyone else is looking forward to seeing what the Yankees and Joe Girardi do for Jeter after Mariano Rivera‘s memorable exit last season. Pulling him in the middle of an inning so he can get a standing ovation seems a bit too obvious but that just might be what happens. The KISS method (keep it simple, stupid) is never a bad choice. My guess? The rest of the team will stay behind in the dugout when Jeter takes the field defensively in the ninth inning — maybe earlier if they’re worried about rain in the later innings — so he can be alone on the field and get a roaring ovation. Then Girardi will pull him mid-inning so Jeter can get another ovation. I dunno, I’m just spit-balling here. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be awesome and memorable. The Yankees have a knack for doing these right. After all, it’s the people that make this stuff special. Everything else is secondary.
3. Earlier this week Girardi said he plans to play Jeter during the final three games of the season in Boston, though he softened that stance after yesterday’s loss and said he’ll ask Jeter what he wants to do. Of course Jeter said he wants to play, but maybe he’ll change his mind if tonight’s send-off is just too perfect. That’s what happened with Rivera last year. Needless to say, I selfishly hope he doesn’t play in the series against the Red Sox at all. Like Rivera, let his final moment on the field come at Yankee Stadium with the home fans sending him off in a matter befitting of an all-time great. It would be different if the team was contending and set to go to the postseason, but they’re not, and I want to see Jeter end his career in the Bronx, not Fenway Park. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a jerk — yes, I know lots of people paid lots of money for tickets to see Jeter this weekend, including plenty of Yankees fan — I want his final moment to come at Yankee Stadium. That’s my selfish storybook ending for his career.
4. As for his post-career life, I’m guessing Jeter will stay out of the limelight for the most part, aside from the occasional charity appearance and whatnot. I’m sure he’ll show up to Spring Training and Yankee Stadium a handful of times in 2015, though I would bet on him waiting a few years before coming to Old Timers’ Day like most new retirees. Jeter will have his publishing business to keep himself busy and I’m sure he has a bunch of other stuff going as well (based on the recent NY Mag article). If Jeter gets involved in baseball in any way after retiring, I assume it’ll be at an ownership level, not in some sort of coaching position that comes with the day-to-day grind and a lot of travel. I could absolutely see the Steinbrenners letting Jeter buy a stake in the team at some point in the future, even if he’d be nothing more than a spokesman/figurehead like Magic Johnson is for the Dodgers. His relationship with the Yankees is far from over, obviously.
5. Admittedly, I have not spent a ton of time thinking about this, but right now I consider Jeter to be the sixth best player in Yankees history behind (in order) Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra. That’s my personal list. There is no right answer to this stuff. We all have own personal top Yankees lists and none are wrong. If you want to take the lazy way out and look at WAR, Jeter is fifth in franchise history with both 71 bWAR and 73 fWAR, behind that top four and ahead of Berra. This is about so much more than on-field production though. We’re talking about players who transcend stats. The Bronx Bombers are the Bronx Bombers because of Ruth and Gehrig. Mantle is the greatest switch-hitter ever. DiMaggio has his record hitting streak and the guy married Marilyn Monroe. Berra? He has a World Series ring for literally every finger. These guys aren’t just baseball players, they’re icons and important historical figures. The same is true of Jeter. Want to argue with me that he is the fifth or seventh or tenth best Yankee instead of the sixth best Yankee? Fine. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort though. We’re talking about all-time greats either way and Jeter’s place among the Ruths and Gehrigs and Mantles of Yankee universe is well-deserved.
The regular season ends six days from now, which means the voting for the various league awards will soon end as well. The voting ends after the regular season but before the postseason — what happens in October has no bearing on anything. These are regular season awards, as it should be.
The Yankees are an extreme long shot to make the postseason and teams that don’t make the playoffs tend not to have major awards winners. That’s not always the case — Alex Rodriguez was the 2003 AL MVP on the last place Rangers, for example — just most of the time. Don’t get mad at me. That’s the way the voters vote. The Yankees do still have some candidates for each of the major awards this season, however. Let’s run them down.
Most Valuable Player
There is an excellent chance the Yankees will not have a player finish in the top ten of the AL MVP voting this year for the first time since 1996, when Mariano Rivera finished in 12th place. The lack of a truly elite player, a Robinson Cano or prime-age A-Rod or Derek Jeter, combined with their second straight postseason-less year all but eliminates anyone on the team from serious MVP consideration. The BBWAA has shown time and time again they prefer to vote for players on contending teams.
Now, that said, the MVP ballot is ten players deep and those last two or three slots are like the Twilight Zone. A lot of weird stuff happens there. Raul Ibanez received a tenth place MVP vote in 2012, remember. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been the team’s two best players all year and I’m guessing they’ll combine for at least one down-ballot vote this year. Same with Dellin Betances and maybe David Robertson. The Yankees don’t have any serious MVP candidates this season but I feel comfortable saying someone on the roster will appear on a ballot.
Had he not gotten hurt, Masahiro Tanaka would have been an excellent Cy Young candidate alongside Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber (and Chris Sale). The injury takes him right out of the running for the award, unfortunately. The Cy Young ballot is one five players deep and it would surprise me if Tanaka even managed to sneak on and grab one fifth place vote at this point. He simply missed too much time and there are too many good pitchers in the AL. Maybe Betances will grab a fifth place vote like Robertson did in 2011. Maybe. He is the club’s only real shot at being included in the Cy Young conversation this season.
Rookie of the Year
Believe it or not, the Yankees have never had two players receive Rookie of the Year votes in the same season. That is all but certain to change this year thanks to Tanaka and Betances. There are a lot of good rookies in the AL this year but Jose Abreu has lapped the field — I think he should win unanimously, this is a no-brainer in my opinion — so neither Tanaka nor Betances will win. I do think both are safe bets to garner multiple second and third place votes though. (The ballot is only three players deep.)
Shane Greene has had a nice year but I would be very surprised if he received any votes. There are too many other good rookies in the league (Collin McHugh, Matt Shoemaker, George Springer, Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, etc.) for him to get serious consideration. That doesn’t take away from what he’s done this year. This just isn’t a good year to be a good but not great rookie in the so-called Junior Circuit.
Manager of the Year
The Manager of the Year award has morphed into the “manager whose team most exceeded expectations” award, so Joe Girardi won’t win. I’m guessing the award will go to either Ned Yost of the Royals or Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, depending on which non-Athletics team wins a wildcard spot.
The Manager of the Year ballot is only three names deep and it’ll be tough for Girardi to get even a third place vote this year given his competition. I’m guessing at least one BBWAA member will give him a vote based on the team’s ability to linger in the wildcard race until the final week of the season though. After all, nine of 15 AL managers received at least one Manager of the Year vote last season.
Comeback Player of the Year
This one will be interesting. If Jeter put together nothing more than a decent season, say hitting .280 with a .340 OBP and no power, I think he would have won the Comeback Player of the Year award easily. Mariano Rivera won last year and deservingly so, but, even if he had been merely good instead of excellent, I think he would have won anyway for sentimental reasons.
Jeter’s brutal August and pre-current homestand September really dragged down his season numbers (.256/.304/.313) and it will be hard for voters to look the other way. Melky Cabrera and Albert Pujols stand out as two deserving Comeback Player of the Year candidates, so there is no lack of competition. Maybe Jeter will win on the strength of sentimental votes, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk at all.
A sabermetric component was added to the Gold Glove voting a few years ago, but it only counts as 25% of the vote. The other 75% is still based on the league’s managers and coaches. Whether they admit it or not, offense still has some impact on the voting, though it has gotten better in recent years.
Right off the bat, we can completely eliminate the entire infield. I mean, maybe Jeter will get a sentimental vote, but I can’t see it at this point. Gardner is a good left field Gold Glove candidate — they used to hand out three general outfield Gold Gloves, but they are position specific now — but Alex Gordon has this one in the bag. He’s outstanding in left and his offense won’t hurt his case either. Yoenis Cespedes might also get more votes than Gardner because of his throwing arm.
Ellsbury has been stellar in center field all season though the numbers hate him for whatever reason: -6 DRS, +1.1 UZR, and +0 Total Zone. I don’t get it. That doesn’t match up with the eye test at all. The various defensive stats always seem to hate Yankees center fielders. Maybe because Gardner takes plays away from them. Anyway, Ellsbury has some stiff Gold Glove competition in Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr., Adam Jones, Leonys Martin, and Desmond Jennings. I think the chances of Ellsbury winning the Gold Glove are better than the chances of any Yankee winning any other award, but I would bet on the field with this many qualified candidates.
Yeah, no. You actually have to hit to win a Silver Slugger and not many Yankees did that this year. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best hitters and they aren’t beating out Gordon or Trout, respectively. Nevermind the other candidates around the league. As far as the Yankees are concerned this year, the most exciting part of the awards voting will be seeing where Tanaka and Betances finish behind Abreu for the Rookie of the Year award. Jeter’s possible Comeback Player of the Year and Ellsbury’s possible Gold Glove are the only other items of note.