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Monday, September 22, 2014

Who Will Replace Derek Jeter as MLB's Elder Statesman?

After 20 seasons of classy winning and racking up accomplishments, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is ending his venerable playing career at the end of the week. Baseball has always seemed to have someone of his caliber as their “dean of the game,” so which current player will replace Mr. November when he steps off the field for the final time?

The entire 2014 season has been a farewell tour for Jeter, who has struggled to a .255 batting average, four home runs and 43 RBIs in 139 games. Some have been annoyed at the adulation that has occasionally bordered on being the modern equivalent of a Viking funeral pyre. But with nearly 3,500 career hits, 16 post season appearances (including five World Series wins) and 14 All Star game nods, he’s kind of a big deal and his departure is a cause for remembrance and celebration.

While nobody can truly replace a player of Jeter’s magnitude, there is some veteran out there who will step into his role as baseball’s revered elder statesman. Here are the most likely candidates:

David Ortiz (Age 38), Designated Hitter for the Boston Red Sox: Although he rarely plays defense, Big Papi is still known as one of baseball best players. With a career .285 batting average, 466 home runs, 1,533 RBIs and eight playoff appearances (three World Series wins), he has the kind of resume that one might expect out of Jeter’s replacement.

Playing in a market like Boston, Ortiz receives plenty of national exposure. However, his outspoken nature and flamboyancy (i.e. bat flips and occasional off-the-cuff public remarks) make him a near opposite of Jeter, and polarizing to some. Nevertheless, he is probably the most likely to be the next player to have a year played in his honor when he retires in the not so distant future.

Albert Pujols (Age 34), First Baseman for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Similar to Ortiz, Pujols has piled up numbers throughout his career, amassing a .317 batting average, 519 home runs, 1,599 RBIs and eight top-two MVP finishes over 14 major league seasons. He is also about to head to the post season for the eighth time and has a reasonable chance of winning his third World Series winning team.

While he’s still a productive player, Pujols current enormous 10-year, $240 million contract makes him seem almost like a sideshow. Nevertheless, the future Hall-of-Famer is in an elite class, which is why he is on this short list.

Bartolo Colon (Age 41), Pitcher for the New York Mets: The portly right-hander has won 203 games with a 3.95 ERA during a 17-year major league career. Despite re-inventing himself in recent years (42 combined wins in the past three seasons), his appearance and a previous suspension for PEDs have all detracted from his level of respect.

Ichiro Suzuki (Age 40), Outfielder for the New York Yankees: Now in his baseball dotage, the Japanese import forged a reputation as one of the greatest hitters the game has ever known across his 23 professional seasons. Between his time in Japan and the majors, his resume includes 4,117 hits, a .328 batting average, 684 stolen bases, and some amazing defense.

A slightly below average player for the past several seasons, Ichiro has held on due to his reputation and ability with his glove. Sadly, he may not even be eligible to succeed Jeter, as there’s no guarantee he will continue playing in 2015. If that is the case, his lack of any sort of farewell tour will be a sad commentary on his relative under-appreciated status.

Others to Consider: Outfielder Torii Hunter (a good but not great player); third baseman Adrian Beltre (just don’t rub his head); outfielder Carlos Beltran (16 career post season homers); closer Fernando Rodney (the rakish angle of his cap is always that of a younger man); closer LaTroy Hawkins (more known for playing for 10 teams in 20 major league seasons than his numbers); second baseman Chase Utley (one of the high-priced veterans still producing in Philadelphia); pitcher Tim Hudson (214 career victories, and about to make his seventh postseason trip with hopes his team will finally win a series for the first time).

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