At one point in recent memory, the leader of the Yankees was undisputed. Derek Jeter was named the 15th captain in Yankees history by George Steinbrenner in 2003. Ever since, he has been the quintessential captain, always keeping a winning attitude and staying out of trouble in the most Jeterian fashion possible.
Alongside Jeter were the other members of the Core Four, leading the Yankees to 5 championships in 15 years. The likes of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada created a nucleus that sustained order and accountability within the Yankees clubhouse.
With Jeter’s retirement comes an absence in voice and accountability that the Yankees luxuriously enjoyed while he was still playing. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like anyone else on the team is suited for the job.
Ironically, in terms of tenure and games played, Alex Rodriguez would be next-in-line to assume the role of clubhouse leader. At 1,293 games as a Yankee coming into this season, A-Rod has actually been a part of the team for quite some time, spanning back to the 2004 season.
However, it’s obvious that the terms ‘leader’ and ‘A-Rod’ couldn’t be any more opposing. As the resident PED-abuser and pathological liar, Rodriguez’s input on a situation would carry less weight than Ryan Braun’s.
It is interesting to note, though, that if A-Rod does return to the team and actually contributes to the success of the Yankees, his opinion will hold some importance to the voice of the clubhouse. After all, winning does cure most problems.
Another possible voice that could resonate much more effectively would be Brett Gardner, the born-and-bred Yankee that ranks 9th on the Yankees all-time stolen base list. His small stature doesn’t compare to his enormous heart for the game, and his veteran leadership will be needed in this coming season.
Gardner is the only player remaining on the roster who came up through the Yankees farm system and won the 2009 World Series. He seems like the ideal candidate for the leadership role in the clubhouse, yet it seems unlikely due to his improving yet unamazing statistics.
He vastly improved his power last season, attaining career-highs in HR’s and RBI’s. Yet his calling card, which is his speed around the basepaths, wasn’t nearly as impressive as it had been. Gardner only managed to steal 21 bases, which was second to Jacoby Ellsbury’s 39 SB’s.
If he had more of an impact on the Yankees offense, Gardner could assumed that role this coming season. Yet it doesn’t seem likely that doesn’t produce as much consistently can gain the respect of his peers, although his work ethic shouldn’t be in question.
Then there are the players the Yankees signed to major long-term contracts, such as C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. Right of the bat, there’s a noticeable similarity between both former All-Star’s, which is that they have been plagued so much by injury over the past few seasons.
Sabathia had to miss the majority of the 2014 season due to issues with his right knee, which only allowed him to pitch in 8 games. Teixeira, the one more impacted by the injury bug, hasn’t played more than 130 games since the 2011 season.
As players who haven’t produced up to the level that they’re being paid, it doesn’t make sense for either Sabathia or Teixeira to have an impactful voice come the 2015 season. Unless C.C. comes back with a vengeance and pitches 200+ innings with a sub-4.00 era, or Teixeira hits his normal 30 HR and 100 RBI, neither player’s opinion should hold weight in the clubhouse.
This leads the way for the younger players to step up and become the next voice of the Yankees. If Masahiro Tanaka can regain the dominance he exerted early last season, or if Dellin Betances can maintain his All-Star caliber pitching when he presumably transitions into the role of the closer, the Yankees will have a few really good choices for their next leader.
In all likelihood, however, the best leader will be the one that emerges from the shadows when the Yankees slump at some point this season. It is only with poise and measured tone through the thick and thin that a player can become an effective leader. In addition, he must produce exceptionally well on the field, and become the face of the Yankees and the voice of the majority of the squad when facing the media.
Whether or not he will emerge this season, next season, or in 5 years, it’s pretty clear that whoever tries to assume Derek Jeter’s role has some huge shoes to fill.