The replacement won't come from the farm system, at least not for a few seasons, with Dominican shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo expected to hit the majors around 2017. But the Yankees will likely have several legitimate options to draw from this offseason, when shortstops like Hanley Ramirez and J.J. Hardy are set to hit the market with expiring contracts.
Jeter's legacy will be difficult for the Yankees to replace, if not impossible, but his performance on the field this season won't be. In his final year, the Yankees shortstop has posted a UZR/150 clip of -12.7—understandable in an age 40 season but still a detriment to the team's infield. Jeter has also registered only 17 extra-base hits with a .314 OBP that falls a hair under the MLB average of .315, which means that whoever replaces him will likely be a significant upgrade over his glove and perhaps even his bat.
Here, we'll take a look at the most likely candidates to play shortstop for the Yankees next season, though it's important to keep in mind that the team's thin farm system and collection of bloated veteran contracts severely limits some of the options.
Hardy, 32, is in the final year of his contract with the Orioles, and he has passed the official age threshold that makes him eligible to sign with the Yankees.
In May, an agent unaffiliated with Hardy told FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal that the O's shortstop would be a good fit to replace Jeter, calling Hardy "steady and unassuming" with a "low-maintenance personality" that "would make him well-suited to replace the legend."
Hardy could also be just affordable enough for the Yankees, but not quite so for the Orioles. He makes $7 million this season, a figure that will rise next season but also shouldn't reach a Jeter-esque total. Hardy's main draw is his consistent fielding—he's never produced a negative zone rating—but he can also hit for power. His offensive numbers aren't off the charts (career 96 OPS+) but there's certainly something to be said for a shortstop who can always reliably field his position.
Lowrie's impending free agency might be a non-issue because the Athletics' loss of Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija deal could force Billy Beane to pursue an extension.
But Lowrie, who hit .290 with a .791 OPS in 154 games last year, could come cheaper than some of the other shortstops on the market (if the A's fail to sign him) because of the injury risk he presents. He'd never played 100 games before 2013 (he debuted in 2008), and this year could mark another non-full season if he doesn't recover soon from his fractured right index finger. The Yankees might deem him worth the risk if they can work out a short-term contract.
Cabrera isn't necessarily a glamorous choice to replace Jeter because of his down performances in recent seasons, both offensively and defensively, but the idea here is that the Yankees could be buying low on Cabrera in the hopes that he'd replicate his 2011 performance (25 homers, 92 RBI, .792 OPS) while playing in a hitter-friendly environment.
Recent struggles could make Cabrera more affordable, but he still comes with a few red flags. His fielding has been steadily below average (negative zone ratings in all but his first season) and he's in the midst of a second straight down year offensively. But he's showing signs of returning to his previous levels of success since being traded to the Nationals, where he has an .809 OPS in 85 plate appearances with unusually good plate discipline (12 walks vs. 10 strikeouts). That could prompt the Yankees to make a move for Cabrera if his production continues through the end of the season.
Right off the bat, this deal seems almost impossible because the Yankees don't have the top prospect the Rockies will understandably want in exchange for their shortstop.
But Tulowitzki has proven time and time again that he's unable to stay healthy, which could lower the Rockies' asking price—or rather, how much they can reasonably expect for Tulo.
There are a few other factors that the Yankees could use to their advantage in negotiations, like Tulowitzki's less impressive (but still phenomenal) road statistics and the fact that he's getting tired of losing on the perennially below-.500 Rockies.
Still, this one's a big stretch. The Yankees could start with right-hander Dellin Betances (who has a 1.42 ERA with a 13.4 K/9 rate in 76 innings this season) and top prospect Aaron Judge, then throw in another prospect and maybe an estbalished hitter. Also worth considering: The Rockies have to get their pitching from somewhere, and the free agent market hasn't proven to be a viable option. (Then again, a team like the Mets might be a better option for acquiring young pitching talent.)
And yet, stranger things have happened.
Like Hardy, Lowrie and Cabrera, Ramirez is set to enter free agency this offseason, though he'll likely command a significantly higher salary than any of them.
Ramirez, who's reaching the end of a three-year, $46 million contract, is hitting .274/.363/.450 this season—excellent production at a position lacking solid everyday players. The Dodgers will likely make an effort to re-sign Hanley, with the team's seemingly endless supply of cash reserves and the lack of replacement options at the position, but if he enters the market, expect the Yankees to pursue him.