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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yankees, Derek Jeter at Odds on New Contract

He's the captain.

He's a future Hall of Famer -- first ballot.

He's the face of the franchise.

He's the leader, the guy who gets stuff done, the guy who sets the tone.

The fans love him. Check that, the fans adore him. And, at a time when there is so much negative news from around the world, the fans look to him as the personification of excellence, dignity and getting things done. There is no other.

So it would be a lock, in most businesses, to say open up the vaults for this guy, he's the guy who puts people in the seats, who gives the franchise its special allure, its cache, its international appeal. He's the guy who reinforces the brand, who's added to it, who enriches it, who makes it special.

A no-brainer?

Except. . .

The brand that we're talking about is the New York Yankees, the best brand in baseball, the team with more titles than the next two teams combined, the team that plays in the most expensive stadium in (arguably) the most exciting city in the world, the team that is an institution, that has had many icons come and go, among them some of the best ever to play the game -- Ruth, Gehring, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, a team whose brand is strong enough to survive the tumult of cantankerous managers, of grumpy players, of a capricious owner and of some spectacularly bad free-agent signings. So, while Derek Jeter is special, the team and the brand have been there and done that, have survived worse in the public relations arena (at least, conceivably) than they would suffer if they couldn't come to an agreement with the team and ended up playing for the cross-town New York Mets.

Atop the fact that the team is an institution, baseball can be a cold business that's exceedingly numbers driven. While recent championship teams have demonstrated that leadership in the clubhouse and chemistry among teammates is paramount, the statistical gurus out there (of whom there are many) will argue that the numbers don't lie, especially in baseball, that Jeter is on downward slope of what has been a spectacular career, that many shortstops cover more ground and are more productive at the plate, and, well, he's more worth $12 million a year for three years (even with the New York premium) than say $20 million a year for five or six. And that's where the sides are stumbling. Apparently, the team is willing to give Jeter a 3-year, $63 million deal, while Jeter wants a five- or six-year deal. Which isn't surprising, given all that he's meant to the franchise and given that Alex Rodriguez's contract will run until he's 42 (which is what a six-year deal would do for Jeter, who is older than A-Rod).

Now, before you say that these guys have plenty of money, that why is Jeter so concerned, he's set for life, remember that these players are great precisely because they want more than the rest of us. They want that extra strike to hit, they want to take that extra pitch to scratch out a walk to get something going, they'll crash into the catcher, make the great slide around a tag or the innovative backhanded flip play to give the catcher a chance to tag out a go-ahead runner at home. And they measure themselves through the currency of the realm -- the size and length of their deals. Jeter knows that he's older, and he knows that he isn't the player he was ten years ago, but he also knows that he's the face of the franchise, the leader, the guy who sets the tone and that there's no one like him and no one who can take his place, especially under the bright lights of New York (where the pressure is tremendous). Because of this, he wants to get paid not for his numbers, but for his unmeasurable contributions, something which even the brain trust at Baseball Prospectus cannot measure all that well (at least not yet).

Mike Francesa of WFAN once said that what distinguishes the Yankees is that they can sign someone to a big contract, overpay and have that player not be all that productive, and it won't affect them the way it would devastate the average team, because the Yankees are so well-funded that they can eat a mistake. He's right about that -- witness the ill-fated signing of Carl Pavano and what now looks to be the ill-advised contract of A.J. Burnett. All that said, if the Yankees have all that money, how big of a risk is Jeter? Imagine the attention he'll draw as he approaches 3,000 hits, imagine his leadership and his tone-setting. Derek Jeter is unique, and he's one of the main reasons why the Yankees are the paramount franchise in all of baseball.

And yet. . . the Yankees cannot continue to sign players to long contracts and not have production. Burnett's contract looks to be a risk, and who knows how good A-Rod will be when he's playing for big bucks at 38 through 42. And how will CC Sabathia fare if he cannot control his weight as he ages? All of these are good questions, and they underscore why it's important for all franchises to develop young players as opposed to relying upon signing expensive free agents. That said, the team that's been the best at managing these risks over the years has been the Yankees, who have outstanding results to show for it (and could have better results if, among other things, they were better at competing for the less expensive signings, such as back-of-the-rotation starters and bullpen help). So, what are the Yankees to do?

They cannot afford to lose Jeter, and they cannot afford a stalemate. They also cannot afford to let this negotiation get ugly (by having officials speak to the press anonymously). What they need to do is get into a room, look each other in the eye, and make a deal -- a deal that keeps Jeter in New York for the right price and the right length. There is a compromise to be had, here, that will help both sides get the right result, save face, and move on with the business of returning the Yankees to the World Series.

But they should act quickly and keep the discussions out of the media. This is a special situation, and it deserves special handling. Derek Jeter belongs in a Yankees' uniform -- for the rest of his career.


Blogger Bomber Girl said...


2:54 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

But here's the question, who will pay Jeter that amount? Who will sign him for six years?

Would Jeter really be willing to sit out a year of baseball? Would a contender sign him for his "leadership?"

And as much as Jeter means to the Yankees and the fans. NY Fans have no problem saying "I love Jeter for all he's done for us, but he's washed up."

10:54 AM  
Blogger Escort81 said...

There will be some unhappy New Yorkers if this drags on too long.

Who do you think is more popular in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg or DJ? President Obama or DJ?

8:46 PM  

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