New York » At this time next winter, Derek Jeter will be approaching the end of his 10-year, $189 million contract, which has already left the Yankees vexed as to how to proceed. The debate centers on the question team officials have been putting off forever: Is there life after Jeter?
It might seem premature to wonder out loud, but with Mark Teixeira now in pinstripes, the Jeter era may well begin dwindling. Of course, the captain still is enormously popular with the fan base, and he'll always be the link to the early days of the dynasty. But Teixeira is about to become the most valuable star in the Yankee family.
He is, after all, younger and more productive than Jeter; the numbers aren't even close. Teixeira is more stable -- both on and off the field -- than Alex Rodriguez. And the first baseman already has a built-in reservoir of good will in greater New York after having blown off the Red Sox in the 11th hour of his negotiations.
And it won't hurt that he's a near-lock to hit 30-plus home runs while driving in 100 or more runs.
Unless Teixeira breaks down from a massive case of big-market jitters, and there's nothing to suggest he will, he's about to become the centerpiece of what's become the best Yankee team (on paper) in a decade.
Of course, that transfer of power was supposed to happen in 2004 when A-Rod became a Yankee. He wasn't just going to bring the Bombers back to their glory days of the late '90s, he was supposed to whisk Jeter off the stage. That scenario quickly turned to vapor, as Rodriguez has staggered through a series of postseason failures, and the Yankees have yet to win a championship, or even get out of the first round, on his watch.
But at age 34, Jeter's footprint in the offense has never been smaller.
Even while hitting an even .300 last year, Jeter's power numbers plummeted toward career-lows. He bounced into 24 double plays last year, tops on the Yankees, and tied for fourth in the American League.
It's possible he is about to enter his decline phase, which is the crux of the Yankees' dilemma.
Until they signed Teixeira, it was a given that Jeter would get another deal in 2011 and that, as he pushed closer to 40, would shift to another position. First base would've been the most logical choice, given his sure hands.
But Teixeira now blocks Jeter's transition, as does Jorge Posada's inevitable conversion from catcher to DH. A-Rod has nine more years at third base. The Yankees seem committed to resurrecting Robinson Cano at second. If Jeter goes anywhere, it would have to be center field after Johnny Damon has moved on.
The easiest way out, of course, is if Jeter's production stalls altogether; if he were to shrink to .265 or lower in his last two seasons, the Yankees could conceivably take the public relations hit and let the captain's contract expire.
But Jeter isn't likely to atrophy like that. Even without gap power, the captain will likely range between .275-.300, which will be enough for the Steinbrenner family to rationalize keeping him around.
Don't forget, Jeter is 465 hits (approximately three seasons) shy of 3,000 for his career. It's impossible to think the Yankees would let him achieve that historic goal anywhere else.
You can already picture the open-air love-in that will ensue.
Jeter will be feted like royalty, which he already is, and handed an express lane ticket to Cooperstown. But by 2011, a 37-year-old Jeter will have given way to Teixeira, who'll have had the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time, arriving at the start of a second golden era in the Bronx.