April 6, 2015 marked a new era for Major League Baseball’s marquee franchise. For just the second time since the 1996 season, Derek Jeter wasn’t in the Yankees Opening Day lineup, and he won’t be ever again.
Without Jeter, the Yankees embark on the 2015 season without a discernable face of the franchise. Sure, they still have big names like Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. But none of those players have the legacy that Jeter left behind following his near 20-year career in pinstripes. For the first time in a long time, the crosstown rival New York Mets are stealing the backpages and headlines of the New York papers and the Yankees are predicted to miss the playoffs for the third straight season–an unfathomable occurrence for one of the most successful teams in sport history.
During the 2014 season, Derek Jeter became a sell in every city the Yankees played in. His extended retirement, which followed on the heels of Mariano Rivera’s 2013 bow from the game, helped draw crowds across the nation and masked the fact that Jeter batted just .256 and the Yankees were a mediocre team at best. A disappointing Yankee season did end on a high note though when Jeter knocked in the game-winning RBI in his final career at-bat.
With his 162-game retirement a huge headline last season, Jeter became a huge money-maker in ticket sales, marketing, and apparel. The Yankees ranked third in the MLB in overall home attendance and while the team is always a draw thanks to the franchise’s history and the heavy tourist traffic in New York, without a longtime star like Jeter in the lineup those numbers will likely drop. Last season, Jordan Brand, which had an insanely successful run with Jeter during his 19-year career, ran the awesome “#RE2PECT” campaign, New Era rolled out a dope limited edition hat box, and Jeter T-shirts and jerseys flew off the racks at malls and in Yankee Stadium. With the shortstop out of the picture, the Yankees will have to hope either one of their older stars or emerging players steps up to help fill the void on the field and at the gate.
The 2015 Yankees have a mix of aging injury-riddled superstars, underperforming position players, and talented but unproven players. Thirty-four-year-old first baseman Mark Teixeira has battled injuries and is three seasons removed from his last 30-home run season; CC Sabathia is also 34 and pitched in just eight games last season; and Alex Rodriguez sat all of last season and no one really knows what to expect or how much he will even play in 2015, though he did have a solid spring training. All three of these players were key parts of the Yankees last World Series win in 2009 and are either well past their primes or on the backend of their careers while still making absurd amounts of money.
If the Yankees are to surprise and make a run at the playoffs in the fall, they will need significant contributions from pitchers Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances, and Masahiro Tanaka and bounce-back seasons from high-paid position players like catcher Brian McCann (who batted .232 in his first season with the ball club), outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, and the kid who will replace Jeter at shortstop, Didi Gregorius.
Whether he’s ready for it or not, all eyes will be on Gregorius as he attempts to fill Jeter’s massive shoes. He seems confident and excited for the challenge but matching a once-in-a-generation player is a near impossible task for any baseball player. Regardless, the lefty will play a vital role for the Yankees this season and has a huge opportunity to leave his mark on the entire league.
For the winningest franchise in baseball history, the New York Yankees face a tough 2015. Manager Joe Girardi has already dropped the gauntlet by saying this team is “World Series or bust.” When it comes to the Yankees, there’s always a chance that everyone will stay healthy, have a great season, and make a run in October. If things fall apart, though, don’t expect the fanbase to keep showing up for an overpaid, underperforming roster. In New York, the only thing worse than being bad is being boring (just ask the Knicks) and without a player and face like Derek Jeter to at least keep the fan base interested, the Yankees are teetering the thin line between bad and boring.
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