A lot of Derek Jeter stuff in the paper these past two days. Just in case you missed it, here’s my column on the way we view Jeter’s legacy — which naturally starts with a quote from Winnie-the-Pooh — and here’s Brian Heyman’s coverage of yesterday’s ceremony and the disappointing game that followed.
In writing about Jeter leading up to yesterday’s ceremony, I also wound up talking to some of his peers about the bits and pieces of his legacy on the field. There are many iconic moments from Jeter’s career — the Flip, the Dive, the Mr. November home run — but those are the once-in-a-lifetime moments. The plays that more accurately reflect Jeter’s day-to-day career are the ones we’ve seen hundreds of times over the past 20 years: The jump throw at shortstop and the opposite-field line drive at the plate. Those became trademark skills from the Jeter toolbox, as did his ability to stay composed and use those skills in the postseason.
Here are three guys who know a little about each skill talking about what it takes to put those talents to use.
On taking an inside pitch the other way
“It’s tremendous hand-eye coordination,” Mauer said. “Obviously I caught a lot of years trying to figure out how to get him out. It seems like the further you go in, the better he is. And that’s usually not the case with everybody. To be able to put the barrel on the ball on the inside part of the plate — even inside off the plate — is a pretty tough thing to do, and he does it about as good as anybody does. … (But) he’ll do what the situation calls for. I think I remember, I think it was in ’09 in playoffs, we would jam him in pretty good. Maybe his first at-bat in Game 1, he turned on it and hit a home run. The ability to do that too, it’s pretty impressive.”
On making the jump throw on a ball in the hole
“That’s probably the hardest play to make for a shortstop,” Vizquel said. “Because you’re going in the hole, you’re drifting in the wrong direction, and then you have to have a really strong arm to complete the play at first. For some shortstops, they like to slide. They use a slide to stop and make the throw. For some other ones, you like to round (to) the ball. I remember one of my heroes, Davey Concepcion, used to do the same (as Jeter) where he just catch the ball and throw it in the air and make the jump like Jeter does. I think it’s a play that very few shortstops can make. I think a guy like (Troy) Tulowitzki can make it because of his long extremities — long legs, long arms — and also the ability to have a good arm that can make that kind of play. It wasn’t my style. It wasn’t my kind of play because my arm wasn’t that strong. It’s nice when you see that kind of play.”
On performing under the pressure of the postseason
“I think you’ve got to learn how to harness that energy to play in there, because it’s already energy packed,” Giambi said. “There’s a lot of adrenalin. You use it still, trust me, but somehow you kind of hold onto it and still try to stay in your parameters. Derek’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at doing that. We always used to joke around because, in the season, he would go and get his hits and stuff like that. He’d get in the playoffs and his strike zone would shrink to (make him more selective), and he takes his walks. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you do that in the season, you’d hit .400?’ He’s like, ‘Aw, it’s no fun. I want to get hits.’ But he’s amazing. He’s one of the most amazing playoff players I’ve ever seen. He somehow can find another level, and that’s the hardest thing too because now you’re tired. Now you’ve played the whole year, and this is when it counts. He can take those big at-bats when you need him. He can that that walk when you need him. He turns into another player. It’s amazing to watch.”
Associated Press photo
The timing of transition • 01.05.11
For Jorge Posada, the transition away from catcher has always been a matter of time. Even during his remarkable decade-plus stretch of durability, it was clear that at some point — either because of age, production or health — the Yankees were going to have to make a change behind the plate.
That time has come. It’s been three years since Posada started more than 88 games at catcher, and last season he was so banged up that Joe Girardi was understandably hesitant to start him behind the plate more than two days in a row. Posada was an everyday catcher in name only.
In the big picture, the timing of this transition is perfect. Posada got here gradually, and the Yankees have young players ready to take over. Short-term, though, it’s hard to look at the free agent market and not wonder if the Yankees might have been tempted to press their luck one more year.
You could look at the timing Posada’s transition based on two positions: Catcher and designated hitter. Catcher is the long-term positive. DH is the short-term regret.
Passing the torch
The Yankees minor league system is ready to takeover behind the plate. At the very least, it’s ready to give the Yankees options and reason for optimism. Jesus Montero’s second half of 2010 suggested a player growing into his enormous talent, and even if doesn’t prove Major League ready behind the plate, Austin Romine is coming quickly behind him. The Yankees have both talent and depth, and they have each of those things on the cusp of the big leagues.
Two years ago there was unproven talent. One year ago, that talent had shown some results, but it still wasn’t ready for the show. Today, there are catchers on the verge. The past two years, Posada gave the Yankees enough behind the plate that they didn’t feel compelled to rush their young players or aggressively sign a replacement. Posada bridged his own gap, with some space-fillers helping along the way.
As an added bonus, this happened to be the winter Russell Martin became a free agent. Because of their catching depth, and because Posada can still catch occasionally, the Yankees could afford to take a shot on Martin rediscovering his old self. If it works, great. If not, it only gives the young guys a little more development time. In theory, this is what a catcher transition should look like: The old guard is still around and the new talent is eased in.
Filling the hole
With one more year on his contract, Posada isn’t finished just yet. He’s not longer an everyday catcher, but he can be a productive hitter. Even in a down year, when he clearly played hurt a lot of the time, Posada still hit for power and gave the Yankees production. He’s only one year removed from a vintage Posada slash line.
To keep Posada’s bat in the lineup, while keeping his body healthy, the Yankees will make their former catcher a more-or-less full-time designated hitter. It’s a natural fit, and the spot was wide open. No more Hideki Matsui. No more Jason Giambi. No more Nick Johnson.
Then again, if ever there was an offseason to go DH hunting, it was this one. The free agent market is always full of potential designated hitters — quite literally, any available hitter could theoretically fill the spot — but this winter’s crop is loaded with players who can still hit but are best kept away from any sort of glove.
Matsui and Adam Dunn have already signed, but the free agent market still has Giambi, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. A second tier offers Marcus Thames, Russell Branyan, Jose Guillen and maybe Jermaine Dye. The price for each of them must be dropping by the day, and it’s hard to imagine any of them getting more than a one year deal. Those are bats that could help the Yankees, if only there were a place for them.
Associated Press photo of Posada, headshots of Martin and Thome