NEW YORK -- Maybe it’s the Jeter factor. As long as No. 2 was still in the lineup, the aura of the Yankees as a pinstriped powerhouse remained, and it masked the slow decline of empire.
But with Jeter now publishing children’s books and overseeing the prose of David Ortiz on his Players'Tribune website, the sheer ordinariness of the Yankee lineup comes almost as a shock. Especially to those who follow the other side of baseball’s most intense rivalry, the Red Sox, who are in the Bronx this weekend.
The Yankees’ best player now is Jacoby Ellsbury, a guy the Red Sox deemed expendable at market prices. As well as Ellsbury played for the Sox, it’s guaranteed that the Sox prefer the future of their center fielder, 22-year-old Mookie Betts, to that of a player almost a decade older.
Where Jeter once roamed is now the province of one Didi Gregorius, a fine fellow with a nice glove who committed the kind of mistake in his first game as a Yankee that Jeter was constitutionally incapable of making, getting thrown out trying to steal third with his team down four runs.
And just look around the rest of the diamond. Matching up the Red Sox with their Yankee counterparts, it’s hard to find a position where the preferred choice is a Yankee. The catcher, Brian McCann, but only because Christian Vazquez blew out his elbow, and the team’s top prospect, Blake Swihart, is not quite ready.
Anywhere else? Mark Teixeira, slump-ridden and hurt (he'll be 35 on April 11), over Mike Napoli? Stephen Drew over Dustin Pedroia? Chase Headley over Pablo Sandoval? Soon-to-be 38-year-old Carlos Beltran over Shane Victorino and/or Rusney Castillo? Alex Rodriguez and all his baggage over David Ortiz? Gregorius over Xander Bogaerts and all his obvious potential?
The Bleacher Creatures used to chant out the names of Posada and Bernie, Matsui and Cano, Jeets and Paulie, the Giambino and Johnny Damon. Now, they, too, need a scorecard.
Maybe the Yankees will prove greater than the sum of their parts and remain competitive in a division in which every team has it flaws. Maybe A-Rod and Tex and CC will all reverse the downward curves of their career for a last hurrah. Maybe Ellsbury has another MVP-type year in him. Maybe Headley will prove to be a better import from the NL West than the Kung Fu Panda.
That’s an awful lot of maybes in a place where certainty once reigned.