Captains’ Swapping Places?
By Brian Phair
After reading a post on the Extra Bases blog by Peter Abraham yesterday, I starting thinking about Derek Jeter and Jason Varitek. Both guys are captains of their respective rivalry teams and both currently are sitting in free agency looking for a new contract or potential new employer. These 2 guys have been at the center of the Red Sox/Yankees love-fest since the mid-to-late ’90s and have represented their teams with pride and dignity, with just a few exceptions over the years. At this moment, Jeter is negotiating with the Yankees and although both sides are not in agreement just yet, it appears one is inevitable. Varitek on the other hand is waiting. The Sox have him on their radar as a potential back-up option, but are certainly in no hurry to sign him unless V-Mart locks into a deal elsewhere. Although the scenario seems near impossible, what would happen if the Yankees signed Varitek and the Red Sox signed Jeter?
Let me start by saying it will not happen. Period. For the sake of argument though, what would happen to the rivalry? Can you even picture each player in the other’s uniform? In order to tackle this scenario, let’s break it into 2 parts. The first part is the impact each of these players would have on the other club and the second is the impact this swap would have on the rivalry itself.
There may be many ways these 2 players are similar, but there are also many ways they are different. The first and most obvious being the talent difference. Over the past 15 or so years, Jeter has been one of, if not the best and most consistent shortstops in baseball. He has accumulated 2,926 hits and 1,135 rbis while wearing pinstripes and has appeared in 148+ games in all but 1 season since 1996. On the other side of the field, Jason Varitek has been an incredible leader on and off the field, guiding young pitchers closer to their potential. His offensive numbers however, can’t match-up with Jeter. Since 2007, ‘Tek has accumulated 1,258 and 721 rbis, but has caught 4 no-hitters in his career, more than any other catcher in the history of baseball. ‘Tek’s control of the game behind the plate is a stat that is hard to quantify, but critically important to the success of a pitching staff.
Another major difference between these 2 players is where they are in their career. Both are on the ‘back side of the mountain’ so to speak and are winding down their careers, but Jeter is still an everyday player, while ‘Tek is a back-up/split-time catcher at best. Jeter had a dip in his numbers and has noticeably lost a step in the field this past season, but will likely remain a top tier player for another few years before any serious decline. As mentioned before, ‘Tek is definitely on the decline, losing arm strength and bat speed as we speak. The bigger question however, surrounds the captaincy and the rivalry.
In the history of both these clubs, there have only been a few dozen captains all-time. The Red Sox have had 21 and the Yankees have had 13, both franchises having periods of time without assigning someone that rare and special title. Considering 1,618 players have worn a Red Sox uniform and 1,517 players have worn the Yankees uniform all-time, being labeled a captain is unique. Having that elite honor puts you in a different category with your fan base, making it an even bigger issue to jump to the other side of the fence. Both Sox and Yankees fans are passionate and loyal, so when a player switches allegiances, it causes an uproar. Take Johnny Damon for example. He was a solid player who went from Boston to New York and is now one of the most hated players in recent memory for Sox fans. Imagine a player of the caliber of Jeter switching sides…riot city.
If the players were to swap, it would instantly change the dynamic of the rivalry as well. It would instantly add gasoline to the fire. Aguably, the head-to-head match-ups between the two teams have lost some pizazz over the last few years, so adding more hate and anger to the fan bases would renew the sheer distain fans have for the other. If you give fans and the media more fuel, they will light the match and take it to the next level. From the Red Sox perspective it would be amazing as well, because Yankee or not, Jeter is a top tier player that would fill a position that has been a revolving door for the Sox the past half a dozen+ years. ‘Tek to the Yankees on the other hand doesn’t hurt the Yankees, but doesn’t help them either, especially in the batter’s box.
No matter how you look at it, it isn’t going happen. It’s fun to think about though, isn’t it?