11/30/10 6:00 PM EST
Yanks should play hardball with Jeter
Club shouldn't overpay shortstop for his past performance
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
Derek Jeter, 36, is coming off an uninspired season at shortstop. His skills only figure to diminish over the next three to five years, because that's simply the way the human body operates.
Yet here's Jeter, trying to use his marketability and mystique to blackmail the Yankees team he supposedly represents. It's greedy, it's outlandish and it's unfair. And contrary to what my colleague Alden Gonzalez believes, the Bombers need to keep playing hardball and not give in to their captain.
In any other market, in any other scenario, a player of Jeter's age and attributes demanding the kind of years and money that he is reportedly demanding would be ridiculed, derided as delusional. Because, let's face it, Jeter's reported asking price -- anywhere from $23 million to $25 million a year for anywhere from four to six years, depending on what you read -- is as delusional as it gets in baseball's free-agent marketplace.
Yet there are those who insist that Jeter means so much to "the Yankees brand" and has done so much to promote the pinstripes that he should get whatever he pleases.
Obviously, these are not the same people who would have to write the checks.
Yes, the Yankees have deep pockets and revenue streams other teams can only dream about. And yes, they are generally going to overpay for their commodities, because that, as much as anything, has become "The Yankee Way."
But what Jeter and his agent, Casey Close, are proposing goes beyond mere overpayment and ventures into the outrageous. It's one thing to overpay for a player in his prime and quite another to overpay for a player past it.
Jeter gets bonus points for the respectable way he's gone about his business the last 16 years, but he's pushing the limits. Yes, he's the face of the Yankees, but he is not bigger than the Yankees. His agent's contract suggestions, however, suggest he believes otherwise, and that's more of a slap in the face to "the Yankees brand" than anything the Yankees themselves are bringing to the table in this ridiculous melodrama.
This is one of those rare moments in which the Yankees are actually attempting to show some fiscal restraint. And with good reason. Jeter might have laughably won an American League Gold Glove Award this winter -- an award that's based more on rep than results -- but I don't need to get all sabermetricky on you to point out that Jeter's already questionable range is going to get worse, not better, over the course of the next six years. He won't -- or at least, shouldn't -- be a shortstop much longer.
He probably won't be much of a No. 1 or No. 2 hitter much longer, either. Offensively, Jeter posted a .710 OPS and 90 OPS+ last season. Maybe that's an anomaly. Maybe that's the start of a serious decline. I'd bet on the latter, because, again, we're talking about a 36-year-old.
If Jeter were to receive a five- or six-year deal -- one that would end when he's 42 -- the fans would streak through the streets in celebration.
That's right, I'm talking about Red Sox fans.
Of course, we all know that's not going to happen. What's frustrating about the attention this saga has received is that we are well aware of how it ends, and we have been for months. Jeter and the Yankees will work this out. They'll compromise somewhere between those outlandish proposals and New York's reported three-year, $45 million counter.
Yet we're glued to this story, against our better judgment, because it's megalomania displayed for the masses.
Obviously, Jeter isn't hurting for cash. He's come to these convoluted conclusions about his worth because he's trying to prove a point. He's seen what the Yankees are forking over for Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, and now he wants to preserve his place on the totem pole. He certainly doesn't want to command less than A.J. Burnett, regardless of the fact that no team outside the Bronx with decision-makers of sound mind would pay him the $16.5 million Burnett annually receives.
Baseball players have every right to seek out their market worth and to set financial precedents for those who come after them. But teams have every right to avoid making comically awful financial decisions merely to preserve some intangible "legacy."
Let's not make this a matter of respectful worship for a sacred cow. This is a negotiation between a team and a player, plain and simple. And if Jeter is adamant about receiving anything resembling $23 million a year, then the Yankees ought to instruct him to negotiate elsewhere.