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Jeter vs. Rivera: Which Yankee Is More Valuable?

Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

Derek Jeter finally made his return back to the Yankees last night after suffering a calf injury in mid-June.  The Yankee captain missed 18 games while on the DL.  During that time, New York went 14-4 and took over 1st place in the American League East.

Before you read any further, just realize that I’m not saying that the Yankees are better off without Jeter.  I’m just saying they can win without him.

However, they can’t win without closer Mariano Rivera - who is currently nursing a tender right arm. 

That’s why I think Mariano Rivera is far more valuable to the Yankees than Derek Jeter.  I’ve been saying this for two years.

When Mo comes into the game, the Yankees win!  Since 1996, the key to the Yankees success has been, “get a lead late in the game and hand the ball to Rivera”.  Then it’s game, set, match.  How do you think opposing teams feel when Rivera comes into the game?  There aren’t many teams that can say they have a closer that produces those same feelings.

 

Al Bello, Getty Images

 

Every one of his 500+ saves resulted in a Yankees win: could Jeter say that all of his 2,900 hits put his club in the win column? 

Closers are like boy bands of the 90’s.  They’re good for about 2-3 years and then you need a new one. Backstreet Boys and N’Sync – had a few hits and then got stale.  Most closers are washed up after 3-4 years (Bobby Thigpen, Rob Dibble, Eric Gagne, Greg Olsen, Brad Lidge, Joakim Soria).  There has never been a reliever in baseball to have the kind of 16-year career Mariano has had.

Jeter is a great ballplayer. He’s currently got 2,994 hits and is headed toward becoming the first Yankee in to get 3,000. He’s in the top 10 in every major statistical category in Yankees history.  Doubles, batting average, RBI, runs, extra base hits, total bases and stolen bases.

But he’s not a dominating force at his position.  There have been plenty of great shortstops during his career like Tejada, Ripken, A-Rod or Handley Ramirez, Tulo, Reyes.  But Mo can be regarded as the greatest closer of the generation.

Jeter is also showing his age while Rivera (at 41) is not.  What will Jeter be like at 41 years old?  Not nearly the type of player that Rivera is right now.  In fact, Jeter probably won’t even be the Yankees starting shortstop in 2 years.

I think a team with a lights-out closer is much harder to find than an all-star shortstop.  How many All-Star shortstops are there?  The NL has a long list of great ones right now (Ramirez, Rollins, Reyes, Tulowitzki) and the AL does too (Cabrera, Hardy, Alexi Ramirez).

 But how many truly elite closers are there?  Right now, how many closers would you trust if your season was on the line? Chris Perez, K-Rod, Hanrahan, Axford, Farnsworth, Valverde.

As great as Jeter has been, I am pretty sure the Yankees could have found another shortstop. But another Rivera? No way!  They would have traded for a shortstop if they didn’t have Jeter.  The Yanks got a 1st baseman, a 3rd baseman and a centerfielder in the last 3 years.  They would have found a shortstop – believe me!

 

Jeff Gross, Getty Images

 

A shaky closer keeps the good teams from being great but a great closer shortens the game.  Teams have to prepare to win the game in 8 innings or it’s over.  You can still win games with a so-so shortstop!

Check out some World Series winners in the past.  Shortstops don’t seem to be that important but closers always do.

The 2007 Red Sox had Julio Lugo as their shortstop.  Their closer was Papelbon in his prime. The 2006 Cardinals? 5-5 David Eckstein who was the MVP. In 2005, the White Sox had Juan Uribe at SS.  The Sox closer was Bobby Jenks.  The 2003 Marlins had Alex Gonzalez - a .248 hitter and their closer was Ugueth Urbina – an All-Star. The 2002 Angels?  Again, David Eckstein with Troy Percival as their All-Star closer.  The 1997 Marlins’ shortstop was Edgar Renteria with Rob Nen another All-Star closer.

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