Shortstops: Jeter and Bogaerts

So maybe it is premature to mention Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts in the same breath, but I can’t resist.  Jeter just announced that this coming season will be his last and Bogaerts is preparing for his first full season.  But there is something about them that seems to be to be so similar.  Maybe it has to do with demeanor.  Maybe it is just being Red Sox fan hopeful.  Whatever it is, I was struck by the comparison.

Derek Jeter is the Yankee that even Red Sox fans admire.  Tyler Kepner wrote in the New York Times about his retirement.

The greatest compliment we can give Derek Jeter, as he prepares to leave the grandest stage in baseball, is that he never let us down. He has made thousands of outs and hundreds of errors and finished most of his seasons without a championship. Yet he never disappointed us.

This is no small feat for the modern athlete, in an age of endless traps and temptations.

From cheating to preening to taunting — even to defensible acts, like fleeing to a new team in free agency — the hero, almost invariably, breaks our heart sometime. Not Jeter.

He grew up beside a baseball diamond in Kalamazoo, Mich., dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yankees, and that is what he has done. He has never played another position, never been anything but No. 2 for the Yankees. But this season, he announced Wednesday, will be his last.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward,” Jeter said in a statement on Facebook, adding later: “I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball.”

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

If Frank Sinatra were around, he could sing “My Way” at Jeter’s retirement.

Jeter is perhaps the most secure, self-confident player in baseball, a sharp contrast to the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, whose season-long suspension means that he will never again be teammates with Jeter. Groch [Dick Groch, the scout who signed Jeter] said he noticed these traits while scouting Jeter, who smiled under pressure and showed the leadership skills of a chief executive.

Derek Jeter always knew who he was and never acted out of character.

And what of the Red Sox rookie?  Xander Bogaerts, the kid from Aruba who speaks four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish, and Papiamento [the official language of Aruba]) also grew up playing baseball.  Even though he was called up last August, he remains eligible for rookie of the year for 2014.  Peter Abraham profiled him in today’s Boston Globe.

Xander Bogaerts took a few ground balls at third base last Friday. That ended when Red Sox manager John Farrell arrived at JetBlue Park over the weekend.

“He told me to go to shortstop and not to worry about third base,” Bogaerts said Wednesday after a lengthy workout. “I hope that means something good for me.”

As it stands today, Bogaerts is the shortstop. But that could change if the Red Sox sign Stephen Drew, who remains a free agent on the eve of spring training officially opening. Until Drew signs, Bogaerts can’t be sure exactly what role he’ll have.

“Nobody has said anything to me about it,” Bogaerts said. “It’s definitely not perfect, but I have to play baseball no matter what. I can’t worry about it too much. I’m working at shortstop every day and trying to get my reps in and get ready.”

I think the Sox need to forget Drew, even if he is a great fielder, and go with Pedroia, Middlebrooks and Bogaerts. Time to see how the kids do.

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

We will need to see how he matures but Bogaerts seems, so far, to be cast in a Jeter mold.

But with players now on the field, Sox officials have been more measured with their comments about Drew and seem ready to start the season with Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base.

That the two arrived at camp early and have been working hard with infield coach Brian Butterfield doesn’t hurt their chances.

The 21-year-old Bogaerts is certain to make the team regardless. He hit .250 in 18 regular-season games last year before emerging as a starter in the postseason. Bogaerts started eight games in October, entering the lineup for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and staying there.

Bogaerts was 8 for 27 (.296) in the postseason with four extra-base hits and nine runs scored. Teammates marveled at how unaffected he was by the atmosphere.

“I learned so much about the game last year, the preparation you need,” Bogaerts said. “The other teams will find your weakness right away. I need to get better at everything, especially recognizing pitches. But I know I can do it.”

Last October, Joon Lee wrote a long profile of Bogaerts for Red Sox blog, Over the Monster.  One quote stood out for me.

“I’ve always been a pretty quiet guy,” Xander said. “I don’t really go out a lot so I try to stay out of the most trouble as possible. Nothing good happens at night so that’s why it’s good to stay at home.”

Not a wild and crazy guy.  Yes, I know, Jeter didn’t exactly stay at home, but he never talked about his personal life.

Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts:  The past and the future?  We shall see.

Photograph:  Jeter, Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Photograph: Bogaerts, Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Red Sox and Yankees: September 2013

Sox fans always worry about a big fold in September.  I’m beginning to breathe a little easier after yesterday afternoon when they had a huge lead, started to give it up, stopped the bleeding and added a run.  The Sox last loss was six games ago and they will, before September is done, lose again.  But probably not often.  Not more than a game here or there.  The losers from last year are now the team to beat.  The only possible rain cloud is the injury to Jacoby Ellsbury which may mean he has already played his last game for the Sox.  As another fan tweeted, “Let the Bradley [Jackie Jr.} era begin.”  But I think the air has gone out of the Sox-Yankees games that remain.  The Sox have a replacement for Ells, but the Yankees can’t really replace Derek Jeter who appears to have re-injured himself after missing most of the season.

The different coverage from the Boston Globe and the New York Times this morning tells the story.  First Tyler Kepner from the Times.

Before this weekend, the Yankees had never lost three games in a row while scoring at least eight runs every time. Now it has happened, against the surging Boston Red Sox in the Bronx, and if that were not sobering enough, Derek Jeter aggravated his fragile left ankle Saturday and departed Yankee Stadium for a hospital.

His CT scan was negative, according to the Yankees, who sent the test results to Jeter’s ankle surgeon in Charlotte, N.C., anyway. There is a reason only one player in Jeter’s lifetime (Omar Vizquel) has played 100 games at shortstop at age 39 or older.

Alex Rodriguez missed Saturday’s game altogether. Rodriguez has helped the lineup during his appeal of his drug suspension, and he had no injury on Saturday, Manager Joe Girardi said. He is simply 38 years old and has played a lot lately. A day game after a night game was too much for Girardi to ask.

So it goes for the Yankees, who have fewer quality starts than the Mets this season and a bullpen ravaged by injuries. Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan are out, and the indispensable David Robertson will miss at least a few more days with shoulder soreness.

The Yankees are old and have no pitching, but they can still insult the Sox.

The Red Sox, quite clearly, made the most of their bailout by the Los Angeles Dodgers last August. They gave short-term contracts to professional, if poorly groomed, hitters in their primes. The newcomers Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes and especially Mike Napoli have taken turns drilling big hits all series, and Xander Bogaerts, the 20-year-old shortstop, clubbed his first career homer on Saturday, a rocket over the bullpen in left.

Bogaerts connected off Jim Miller, who made his Yankees debut in relief of David Huff. Huff had been impressive in relief, but his first Yankees start was a fiasco. It was the first time since 1941 that a Yankee starter allowed at least nine earned runs to the Red Sox in fewer than four innings.

Poorly groomed?  I guess Kepner means they have beards.  And Drew, by the way,  is clean-cut enough to be a Yankee.

Third base coach Brian Butterfield (left) congratulated Xander Bogaerts after the 20-year-old’s first major league home run.

Third base coach Brian Butterfield (left) congratulated Xander Bogaerts after the 20-year-old’s first major league home run.

What is Nick Cafardo saying in the Globe?

If I were Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi, what would bug me the most about Saturday’s 13-9 loss to the Red Sox was seeing Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr., Ryan Lavarnway, and Xander Bogaerts occupying the 6-9 spots in the Boston order and having them go 6 for 17 with four RBIs, a home run, and six runs.

Here we are in the middle of a September pennant race and the Red Sox have four of their guys from the farm system providing that type of production. The Yankees have nothing resembling that, and are in fact a very old team, albeit a team that has lost three straight to Boston and still managed to score 25 runs. Which is why, folks, the Yankees still have a chance to make the playoffs.

I think Xander speaks five languages and thinks he would be teaching school if he couldn’t play baseball.

Bogaerts, who is the youngest player (20 years, 341 days) to homer for the Red Sox since Dwight Evans (who was 20 years, 322 days old on Sept. 20, 1972), claimed, “I wasn’t sharp at all. I was bad in batting practice so I went back to my leg kick. I’ve always had a leg kick so I went back to that. I got some new bats, so I tried them out and it worked good. Give credit to the bat.”

On the barehanded play on Cano, the shortstop said, “I saw Cano hustle down the line so I didn’t know if I had a chance. So that was real good that I got him.”

Plus the kid got his first homer on his mother’s birthday.  I bet he gives her the ball. [The Yankees got it back for him.]

Will the Yankees even make the playoffs?  Kepner thinks they aren’t ready for the fork just yet.

The Yankees are far from finished. The Rays’ slump — they have lost 11 of 14 after Saturday’s loss in Seattle — has kept the race close. But a deep Boston lineup has exposed a thin and weary Yankees pitching staff.

“Our guys are battling,” Cashman said. “They’ve been battling all year. We’re obviously up against a really good team. You can’t afford to make mistakes, or you can’t afford to not be at full strength, or you can’t afford to not be firing on all cylinders, or they’ll take advantage. And they’ve been taking advantage of every extra inch you give.”

To be fair, the Red Sox are not at full strength, either. Their center fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, is in Colorado for a second opinion on his injured right foot. If further tests reveal a broken bone, the Red Sox would lose a major catalyst at the top of their lineup.

Of course, they have not needed Ellsbury to thump the Yankees the last few days. The Yankees have been too old, too young or too overmatched to hang with the Red Sox, no matter which players they use.

And Cafardo pointed out that Yankees still scored 25 runs in the last three losses which makes them ever dangerous, especially with the Tampa Bay Rays beginning their own collapse.

These are two teams that seem to be headed in opposite directions.  The Sox have their veterans and youngsters, while the Yankees have mostly old guys – and are likely to lose Alex Rodriguez during his suspension next year.

Cafardo writes

The Yankees are going to try to rebuild their team this offseason similar to the way the Red Sox did with strategically placed veteran players. What they can’t do is come up with a Bogaerts, Bradley, or a Middlebrooks, because they don’t have any of those types in their system.

Their young catchers haven’t come around as they had hoped and their young relievers such as Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne have hit walls. Brett Marshall pitched well in 4⅓ innings Saturday after starter David Huff allowed nine earned runs in 3⅓ innings. But Boston’s answer to Marshall, Brandon Workman, has been successful in high-leverage situations.

It was doubly good for the Red Sox — they beat up the Yankees for a third straight day and showed them a glimpse of the future, which right now, the Yankees have no answer for.

According to Kepner, the Yankees have used 54 different players this year, most of whom I’ve never heard of and likely won’t again.

Give credit to Girardi for extracting a winning season from these 54, whether or not they reach the playoffs. It has been a noble run, but on days like Saturday, it seems destined to collapse before October.

So my question is this:  Who is the manager of the year?  John Farrell or Joe Girardi?

Photograph:  Bill Kostroun/Associated Press