Every athlete, no matter how great, eventually loses their battle against time. Derek Jeter has beaten back mankind's most determined enemy for a long time, but as he turns 39 in June, we can see the end on the horizon and the only question remains how much more we get to see of Jeter before his retirement and five-year wait for Hall of Fame induction.
After a 2010 season that appeared to herald the beginning of the end, Jeter's bounced back admirably. From a .270/.340/.370 season, Jeter improved to a .297/.355/.388 line in 2011 and even more admirably, a .316/.362/.429 line last year. He even managed to get into 159 games in 2012, actually tying his career high at the age of 38.
Nearing 40, year-to-year aging among even great players is immense. Every year can lead to that proverbial cliff rather than a gentle slope. It might be easy to look at Jeter's .316 BA and subsequently knock off five points a year like you might mentally do for a 30-year-old. Yet if all older players aged like that, we'd see more players in the majors pushing 50. (And this is before we factor in the broken ankle he suffered in October.)
The likely bet is that Jeter's stats come down considerably next year. While that's not a certainty -- Jeter's impressive year ought to disabuse anyone of that notion -- it's the smart place to put your money. The question is: Just how far will his numbers fall?