However, we do already know one thing that 2014 will be remembered for.
One more year for Jeter
The announcement on Wednesday that this will be Derek Jeter’s final season was a major news story and, particularly considering it was telling us something that’s not actually going to happen until later in the year (my instant reaction to the mass coverage was to mis-read it and I thought he was retiring there and then), that goes to show just how big an impact he has had on the game.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark summed it up by drawing on research last August that overwhelming placed Jeter as the recognised ‘face of MLB’. As Stark put it:
“How does any sport replicate what Derek Jeter has meant to baseball over the last decade and a half — and still does? Is that even possible?
Oh, the Yankees will find another shortstop. There’s a 100 percent probability of that. And Jeter will find stuff to do that probably doesn’t involve spending 14 hours a day curled up in a chair playing Sudoku.
But where does baseball find the next Derek Jeter? Good luck on that”.
It’s difficult to judge from the U.K., where generally you are either a dedicated baseball fan or don’t pay it any attention whatsoever, but clearly Jeter has meant a lot to baseball in terms of its image to the casual fan in the States and, with so many entertainment options out there competing for people’s eyes, ears and money, that’s an important factor that MLB needs to grapple with.
Yet the very nature of sport means that legends come and go. Even if there isn’t necessarily a ready-made, obvious replacement – as Stark suggests is the case here – other players will emerge in time to take on the mantle. MLB will produce new icons, but it won’t be so easy for the Yankees to find another Jeter and what he represented.
He was part of a group of players that created a new era in the rich history of the New York Yankees. There are some similarities here to Manchester United’s ‘Class of ‘92’, documented in the film released last December. In both cases, you had a group of very talented young players who came through together and, for a period, personified the team. Beckham, Scholes, Giggs and co became Man Utd, just as Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada and co became what you thought of when you thought of the Yankees.
Not only was that felt by the fans, particularly of the respective teams, but you got a sense that it was felt by players that joined the teams too. Star players coming into the dressing room or clubhouse generally had to fit in with the culture and example that was set by those core players.
Jeter is the last of the fabled ‘core four’ and whilst the Yankees may well use their spending power to put together championship-contending teams in the years to come, it will be a while before they, or potentially any other team, brings through such an incredible group of players that define an era quite like this group has.
A.J. to the Phillies
A.J. Burnett won a World Series with Jeter and the Yankees in 2009 and in 2014 he’ll be pitching for the team that they beat. The Philadelphia Phillies have continued their offseason trend of adding veteran players by bringing in the 37-year-old pitcher on a one-year deal.
If he pitches as well as he did in the past two years with the Pirates then the Phillies will be more than happy with their $16m investment, yet it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the deal would make more sense for a team with a genuinely good shot at making the playoffs this year.
And it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the Phillies’ General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is misjudging his roster if he’s putting his team in that category.
The Phillies certainly have some reason to hope that they could get in the Wild Card race, but they need their ageing roster to stay healthy and they suffered a blow this week when Cole Hamels, one of the younger veterans at 30 years old, revealed he has a shoulder injury that could see him miss most of the first month of the season.
Iwakuma injured too
Injuries to pitchers is a depressingly familiar theme each Spring and the Seattle Mariners are also cursing their bad luck early in Spring Training. Hisashi Iwakuma, who had such an impressive season in 2013, has injured his right middle finger and will miss 4 to 6 weeks, meaning he won’t be ready for the start of the season.
The Mariners do have some talented young pitchers to call on and my favourite scouting work of the week came from their ace Felix Hernandez, who described James Paxton as “a funky lefty dealing over the top, throwing 97 [mph]” and Taijuan Walker as “a big dude throwing cheese”.
The Mariners also lost outfielder Franklin Gutierrez for the coming season due to a recurrence of a “gastrointestinal problem”, or as new manager Lloyd McClendon put it: “his health was not cooperating with him”.
Late start for Latos
The Cincinnati Reds’ Mat Latos is another pitcher who started Spring in exactly the way he hoped he wouldn’t. Latos felt a twinge in his left knee during some workouts on Tuesday and underwent minor arthroscopic surgery on Friday. The Reds hope it will only sideline him for 10 days or so, but any setback is a worry for a team that had a relatively quiet offseason and is mainly relying on the players they had last year combining to have a better year in 2014.
Ending on a more positive note, two young players had a very good opening week to Spring Training by agreeing contract extensions with their respective teams.
Outfielder Michael Brantley signed a four-year contract extension with the Cleveland Indians worth $25m, whilst pitcher Julio Teheran agreed a six-year, $32.4m extension with the Atlanta Braves. The deal with Teheran follows the eight-year contract extension signed by first baseman Freddie Freeman recently as the Braves try to keep hold of their core young talent for years to come.