Derek Jeter was the perfect player at the perfect time. Jeter emerged as the Yankee captain at the end of the Steroid Era and perfectly played the role of the “Face of Baseball” ever since.
Jeter played the game “the right way” for 20 seasons, running out ground balls, diving into stands for foul pop-ups, hitting clutch homers, and being an outstanding gentleman of the game, never unruly or ungracious, always polite and obliging. Jeter’s character only enhanced his legend on the field, creating the aura of “The Captain” even when he was reluctant to play the role we all wanted him to. He was always, simply, Derek Jeter.
Thanks to the advance of the digital age, social networks, and regional sports networks, the legend of Jeter was able to flourish for all the right reasons. Fans of the game were looking for a player who could be a white knight on and off the field, who could distance himself from scandal and the Steroid Era. What they got was Derek Jeter.
Now, a new era of baseball is here. New commissioner Rob Manfred will take the helm without The Captain to be the transcendent star who helped keep the game’s national identity intact. What Manfred does have is a stable of young talent across the league that can attempt to do what Jeter did for the next generation of baseball.
Here are the top choices for the Jeter’s replacements as “Faces of Baseball.”
If Ruthian home runs are your thing, Giancarlo has you covered in South Beach. His home runs don’t just leave the ball park, they fly on a Top Gun fighter jet. If Paul Bunyan were a baseball player, he’d have Giancarlo’s two-handed, effortless chop-swing that makes the ball sound like it was shot from a circus cannon.
Stanton lead the National League in long balls (37), total bases (299) and slugging percentage (.555) this season, all accomplished before he got hit in the face with a fastball and was forced to sit out the final few weeks of the year.
In 2014, Stanton was in the top five in all of baseball in OPS (.995), walks (94), and on-base percentage (.394), and in the top ten in RBIs (105).
The California native is just 24 years old and already has 154 homers in his five-year career, which puts him on pace for approximately 340 deep balls after his age 30 season — all while playing in the Grand Canyon of ball parks, Marlins Park.
Stanton will be just 26 years old when his contract expires in 2016. Look for the young slugger to get a major payday in a couple years if an extension with the Marlins can’t be reached.
Imagine putting that swing in the arena of Yankee Stadium. Look out.
What can’t Cutch do? The 2013 NL MVP has been the biggest reason the Pirates have been resurrected after 20 losing seasons and have made it to the postseason the past two years.
While McCutchen might be most recognized for his dreads spilling out from under his Pirates cap, his all-around game is nothing to overlook. Besides his MVP award last year, McCutchen is a four-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove center fielder. Some of his numbers this year are better than his MVP season!
In 2014, he lead all of baseball in on-base percentage (.410), and was top ten in slugging percentage (.542). McCutchen led the National League in OPS (.952) and OPS+ (168). Adding to those stats, McCutchen hit .314 with 38 doubles, 25 home runs, and 83 RBIs.
McCutchen has all of the qualities that a manager could want from his team leader. Cutch isn't afraid to lay out to make a catch and save a run, or run full-steam into a wall to rob extra bases from a hitter, all for the sake of the team. Cutch will hit a homer in one inning, steal second in another with his lightning speed, and then smack one of his patented doubles in the gap to cap it off.
Andrew McCutchen is the complete weapon, and at just 27 years old, ready to make some more noise in The ‘Burgh for seasons to come.
At just age 27, San Francisco Giants catcher/first basemen Buster Posey has already amassed one heck of an awards mantle, all while looking like he just graduated from high school.
The 2010 Rookie of the Year already has two World Series rings, the 2012 NL MVP award, two All-Star game appearances, and a Silver Slugger Award to put on his resume. Posey is the face of one of the most successful North American sports franchises of the past decade in the Giants.
After a “sub-par” 2013, Posey rebounded in 2014 with a slash-line of .311/.364/.490, an OPS of .854 to go along with 22 home runs, 28 doubles, and 89 RBIs. Catchers don't put up those kinds of numbers, even “offensive” catchers.
If the Giants make another deep run into October in 2014, look for Posey to be the first on the field holding the Commissioner’s Trophy, and on your next box of Wheaties.
Rizzo is the dark horse of the group. The Chicago Cubs first basemen has shown glimpses of what he could become, especially if he gets any protection in the lineup with the organization’s youth movement (Side note: Cubs’ top prospect Kris Bryant very well could be on this list next season).
The days of the Cubs signing and flipping talent for trade deadline deals are over, and the time for the team to take steps towards winning is now. That winning starts with the cornerstone of the organization, 25 year old first basemen Anthony Rizzo.
2014 was Rizzo’s second full season in The Show, and he was lights out for a last-place team. The lefty was in the top five of the National League in on-base percentage (.386), slugging percentage (.527), and OPS (.913). On top of those numbers, Rizzo hit .288 with 32 homers, and 28 doubles, and earned himself his first All-Star selection.
To add to the on-field accolades, Rizzo is a cancer survivor who dedicates so much of his off-time visiting sick children in Chicago hospitals, often times showing up unannounced.
If the Cubs plan unfolds like they hope, Rizzo will be the foundation of NL Central Division and pennant-winning teams for years to come. Any guy that can win with the Cubs is going to garner some national attention.
This season the Baltimore Orioles won the AL East by an unbelievable 12 games over Derek Jeter’s Yankees. This without a true pitching ace, season-ending injuries to All-Stars Manny Machado, and Matt Weiters, and a suspended Chris Davis.
Even with all the disorder in the Os lineup, they were able to lead the league in home runs this season, thanks in large part to Adam Jones. who blasted 29 long balls, and tacked on 30 doubles, all while playing Gold Glove caliber defense, again.
Along with the leadership of Skipper Buck Showalter, one could easily argue that Jones is the key to the Os success the past several seasons in which he won three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and went to four All-Star games.
Jones’ game might be the smoothest in all of baseball. His swing is easy, yet fierce. He rules center field in the same manner that Ken Griffey Jr. did, dominating. Fly balls don’t get over the head of Adam Jones; they die in the webbing of his glove.
Off the field Jones excels just as much. Earlier this year, Jones was awarded the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation’s award for community service due to his constant activity within the Baltimore community. After Derek Jeter hit his now-famed walk-off single against the Os in his last at-bat in the Bronx, Jones took to Twitter to sing The Captain’s praises: “Couldn’t have asked for a better role model within the game. Jeter thanks for teaching me that grinding is the way to play.”
The Dodgers southpaw ace is the only pitcher you will find on this list. Really, it's hard to be the “face of the game” when you're only pitching every fifth day, but Kershaw is that dominating that he needs to be on this list.
At age 26, Kershaw has already amassed 98 wins and could be the closest thing we will ever see again to a possible 300-game winner. His career ERA is a slim 2.48 with a win-loss percentage of .667, which is first among active pitchers. The winner of two Cy Young Awards, soon to be three, Kershaw is also the frontrunner for the NL MVP award this year. He has been that dominating.
Kershaw was so dominating this season that in the month of June his ERA was 0.87. That is not a typo. That same month, he struck out twice as many batters (61) than he allowed base-runners (30), and threw his first no-hitter on June 19.
In 2014, Kershaw led baseball in wins (21), WHIP (0.86), ERA (1.77), WAR (8.0), complete games (6), win-loss percentage (.875), ERA+ (197), FIP (1.81), strikeouts per nine innings (10.8), and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (7.71). These numbers are plenty enough to argue that Kershaw assembled one of the greatest seasons a pitcher has ever had.
It's not hard to envision Kershaw as the newest “Face of the Game,” as long as he shaves that awful beard.
Let’s face it, once Derek Jeter announced he was retiring earlier in the year, everyone knew that Mike Trout was going to take over as the primary ambassador for the game of baseball. This is truly fitting since Jeter is Mike Trout’s biggest role model.
Trout carries himself in the same way that Jeter does. Quiet and reluctant to fall into the accolades and hype being showered upon him. Trout plays the game hard, every single day.
Trout’s first three seasons have been nothing short of historic. His first year in the bigs, he was AL Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and second in MVP voting behind Miguel Cabrera — which has happened twice. Many baseball pundits argue that because of Trout’s stellar play as the Angels’ center fielder, he should have been awarded two MVPs. Surely, this season will be the year Trout overthrow’s Miggy’s reign as AL MVP.
To understand the early greatness of Mike Trout, we can look at his WAR (“wins above replacement,” which analyzes how many wins a player is worth per season). Cooperstown legends Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey, Jr., Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, and Ty Cobb all rank behind Trout in terms of WAR accrued through their age-22 seasons. If that wasn’t enough, according to FanGraphs' measurement of WAR, Mike Trout’s young three-year career is one of the greatest three-year stretches in the history of baseball, just behind the best three-year splits of Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams. Wow.
Analytics aside, in his first three years, Mike Trout’s career slash line is a ridiculous .305/.395./.549 with 97 home runs, 102 stolen bases, 307 RBI, 111 doubles, an OPS of .945, and an OPS+ of 167. Those numbers are absurd for any player, but for a 23-year-old, they are mythical.
Trout is the runaway consensus AL MVP this season, and it is by far his worst hitting season since being called up for full-time duty in 2012. Even though the numbers with the lumber aren't as gaudy as the previous two years in terms of average, Trout still leads baseball in runs scored (115), extra base-hits (84), and total bases (338). Trout is also the AL leader in RBIs (111) and WAR (7.9). Not to be outdone, he is also top five in the game in homers (36), doubles (39), triples (9), walks (88), slugging percentage (.561), OPS (.939), and OPS+ (167).
Whew, proof enough?
If there is anyone in the game today who can transcend the ballpark and reach the national mainstream, it's Mike Trout, and judging by the 23-year-olds career path thus far, we better get used to seeing him around.
With Jeter stepping down, an era and generation of baseball has ended. It's time now for Trout, Stanton, Rizzo, Jones, and McCutchen to take their spot atop the mountain as the players who will lead the game into the next generation.
— Jake Rose