"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Derek Jeter’s Contract is a Rorschach Blot

I read three very different takes on the Derek Jeter deal on Sunday. For a contract that seemed relatively uncontroversial to me at first glance — the Yankees overpaid for Jeter like you knew they would, but not insanely — it’s inspired a remarkably wide variety of opinions, and illuminated the strikingly different points of view that make up baseball commentary these days.

The first one I read is from Mike Lupica (I know, I know), and is headlined “Shame on Yankees for dropping ball and insulting Derek Jeter during heated contract talks.” Lupica comes down firmly on the side of the Jeter camp:

…[The Yankees] wanted it to look, in the more heated parts of this, as though Jeter was the greedy one. They were twitchy to get out there what they said Jeter wanted, were delighted to get in the papers that Jeter wanted $23 million or $24 million a year, whatever the Yankees said he was asking for. Not just delighted. Thrilled.

They thought it made them look good. But you know who has always made them look good? Jeter has…

…Now they think they protect that brand by giving him this kind of hard time, taking this kind of hard line. I talked to one respected baseball guy in the middle of this, watching this all play out, and asked if Jeter will ever forget the way this all played out, being told in public to go find a better offer if he thought he could.

There was a pause at the other end of the phone and then the guy said, “Never.”


Lupica concludes, “You can’t be a better Yankee than Jeter has been. It is the Yankees who will someday wish they had done things better on this.”

Then we have Mike Vaccaro of the Post weighing in with “Deal saves Derek from becoming Captain Crook.”

Derek Jeter may not realize this right now, and he probably would never admit it even if he drank a Big Gulp of truth serum, but the Yankees did him a favor by playing this modest version of hardball, by refusing to empty the vault for him and foisting a pay cut on him.

By agreeing to a three-year deal worth $17 million annually plus an option for a fourth year and incentives, the Yankees came up a little and Jeter came down a lot, and if the compromise landed closer to the Yankees’ target number than to Jeter’s, it will still benefit the Captain in ways he can’t possibly appreciate yet.

Because throughout a career that already has netted him over $200 million in salary, Jeter never once had been hounded by his wealth. How many athletes can say that? Any player, any sport, who breaks the bank, the bank always is there alongside him, shadowing every move he makes. Ask Amar’e Stoudemire. Ask Johan Santana. Ask CC Sabathia. Ask the patron saint of all of them, Alex Rodriguez.

Jeter? Until the past few weeks, the money he has earned has been almost incidental, which is just another charmed way that he has smartly led his professional life.

Finally, over at SI.com, Joe Sheehan brings us “New York Yankees paying for what Jeter has already done” (You should click over and read the whole thing):

There’s no way around it: this is a contract that pays Jeter for what he has done, rather than what he is expected to do. It is sui generis, disconnected completely from market forces. Miguel Tejada, who was a bit worse than Jeter this year at the same age, was guaranteed about 15 percent of what Jeter got. Orlando Cabrera, a year younger and about as effective as Tejada last year, might not get that. Heck, it’s not that much less than what Troy Tulowitzki, one of the best players in baseball, is guaranteed at the peak of his six-year extension. The Yankees, not wanting to deal with the backlash, not able to replace Jeter with a star, not willing — for all their bluster — to treat him like a 36-year-old shortstop coming off a career-worst year, aren’t paying Jeter; they’re paying off Jeter.

The most likely scenario is that Jeter continues to decline, if not in a straight line, in a noticeable pattern over the life of the deal. His contract may be without compare, but as a player he’s one of many aging superstars, and the ones he most resembles statistically — such as Robin Yount, Alan Trammell and Craig Biggio — were not good everyday players after 36. There are precious few examples, in baseball history, of players even able to play shortstop regularly in their late 30s, and the ones who did successfully were excellent defensive players in their prime, a label that even his most ardent defenders wouldn’t hang on Jeter.

This is a huge problem for the Yankees, who have no place else to play Jeter due to the makeup of their roster and payroll. Worse still, any further offensive decline will make moving him a moot point, as his bat won’t play anywhere but shortstop. The money is spent, and the challenge for the Yankees over the next three seasons is to do what they couldn’t do in this negotiation: evaluate their shortstop based on his contributions to what is supposed to be the sole goal of the organization: winning a championship.

So here we have the Yankees screwing Jeter; the Yankees doing him a favor by cutting his pay; and the Yankees screwing themselves by giving him far too much. And I think that both Mike Vaccaro and Joe Sheehan make good points here. As for Lupica, I have a hard time believing that he really thinks the Yankees insulted Jeter (though if it’s true that all the leaks about what Jeter was asking for came from the Yankee front office, well, that is pretty interesting). The Jeter negotiations were not “heated”; “heated” is what will happen if Joe Sheehan and Mike Lupica are ever locked in a room together. Would it have been better if negotiations had been kept out of the media a bit more? Sure. But urging Jeter to test the market is hardly unfair or cruel.

I think that, as usual, Joe Sheehan is right from a pure baseball perspective — this contract, no matter how much less it may be than what Jeter wanted, is still vastly more than any other shortstop that age would ever get, and enough that if Jeter declines as the vast majority of late-thirties shortstops do, it will put the Yanks in a very tough spot. With that said, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to pay someone, in part, for their past achievements. Of course they couldn’t just give him, as many fans (and apparently Mike Lupica) suggested, “whatever he wants,” but I want to see Jeter get his 3,000th hit as a Yankee; I want to see him play his last game as a Yankee. If the tradeoff is that the Yankees can’t afford to spend quite so much on other free agents over the next three years, and if that hurts their postseason chances somewhat, then I can live with that, even while I realize that Joe has probably called this one correctly, and there are headaches ahead.

I also agree with what Vaccaro had to say. I was surprised by the reports of what Jeter was said to be asking for, if only because he has generally played such a smooth PR game, and suddenly he seemed tone deaf. More than $100 million? Five or six years? That would have been a terribly unwise move for the Yankees (as opposed to the merely somewhat unwise move they eventually made), and it would have made Jeter look pretty awful. I make it a point to never get angry at players for trying to pry as much money as they can out of team owners, who are, without exception, exceedingly wealthy multimillionaires. But Jeter was asking for a truly irrational deal, and it would have changed the way fans looked at him — some nice memories on his way to retirement would not nearly justify that kind of money. Now, the way things worked out, he doesn’t have a massive contract he can’t possibly live up to shadowing his every remaining move.

Or… well, he kind of does. But it could be a lot worse.


Categories:  Bronx Banter  Emma Span  Hot Stove

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1 rbj   ~  Dec 6, 2010 2:39 pm

For me, it's not about the $s, it's the years. 3 years sounds about right, we just have no real way of knowing how Derek will age over the next 3 years.

2 ms october   ~  Dec 6, 2010 2:55 pm

i don't think the contract is off for either the yankees or jeter.

if we are supposed to be in this free market capitalist system, i think athletes should be able ask for as much as they want.
i also think it is unreasonable for us to expect them to assess themselves - that's not their job. very few of us say "oh yes, tom is much better at filling out spreadsheets than me, of course he should get the bigger raise." and moreover, part of being a competitive athlete is thinking you are the best ss or whatever.

i'm glad this process is over and am ready for lupica and the rest of these assholes to move on to the next big travesty.

3 Emma Span   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:06 pm

[2] I pretty much agree with you. Although while it's true that few of us say "Tom is much better at filling out spreadsheets than me, of course he should get the bigger raise,” it's also true that we don't say "I'm so good at filing spreadsheets, I should be making more than the CEO, guaranteed until I'm 70."

(Not an exact comparison, obviously...)

4 Mattpat11   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:12 pm

I think "Drink the reality potion" was needlessly mean spirited. If Casey Close responded with "Does Cashman want to spend the savings on yet another one of his seemingly endless line of pitching busts?" people would have flipped their lids, because it would have been completely out of line to say that to the public. They were trying to humiliate him for reasons I don't fully understand.

I think the "new Yankees" of the last 13 months or so have rubbed me the wrong way. Regardless of whether or not they should have come back, the total dismissal of Matsui bothered me, and the Damon fiasco never made any sense to me, especially when we never bothered to get someone to replace them.

5 ms october   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:13 pm

[3] haha. though how many people say that to themselves?
and regardless of what hank says, his net worth is far greater than anyone on the yankees and his only "skill" is being a steinbrenner.

6 Emma Span   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:18 pm

[4] Yes, but "drink the reality potion" came from an "unnamed source close to the negotiations" -- it wasn't Brian Cashman saying that to reporters (well, as far as we know).

7 Ben   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:22 pm

Did Close ever say that they wanted 23 bazillion dollars or was that the Yankees saying what he was saying, as Lupica portrays?

8 ms october   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:25 pm

[4] yes, agreed matt. i left this out of my first comment, but i do think the way the yankees handle negotiations is not cool. i understand they don't want to "overpay," but just stfu and keep the negotiations private and the personal attacks out of the process.

9 Jon DeRosa   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:25 pm

[0] I was at first surprised that Jeter was asking for so much (let's it was over 20 mill a year for 5 years or whatever).

Whether we're right or wrong about his projections, WAR value and decline years, I think it's safe to say our stats-based outlook is far from Jeter's own.

He's more likely thinking, "in 2009, I was hella-awesome, we won, and then I had a bad year. I'll be back to normal next year." The value for him being awesome would still be pretty high, and he thinks it's likely, so he thinks he should get paid for that value.

Right now, the market is coming around to getting smarter about these things, so Cashman felt secure in letting him see what he could get out there. But all the "reality potion" nonsense was overboard.

I WANT Jeter to be delusional. He needs to have that sky-high confidence if he wants to achieve high levels at this advanced age. I don't want him logging onto FanGraphs and checking his projections...

10 Dimelo   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:28 pm

[2] Agreed. Well put.

11 Emma Span   ~  Dec 6, 2010 3:38 pm

[7] Ben, Close denied the highest rumored request -- the $150-some million one -- but not the subsequent reports that Jeter wanted 5 or 6 years at around $23 million per.

Of course, just because he didn't deny it doesn't mean it was true... and for that matter just because he DID deny the first rumor, doesn't mean it wasn't.

12 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 6, 2010 4:59 pm

All I know is I'm looking forward to the day someone insults me with a $45 million offer for anything. Well, maybe my soul, but that goes without saying.

13 Mattpat11   ~  Dec 6, 2010 5:25 pm

[8] In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the Red Sox policy of having Gammons trash the hell out of everyone on their way out the door.

14 JohnnyC   ~  Dec 6, 2010 6:08 pm

[13] Casey Kelly is half the man he used to be today.

15 RIYank   ~  Dec 6, 2010 6:27 pm

Will, can you get me a root beer please? There's $45 Mil in it for you.

Oh, man, sorry, I take it back. Didn't mean to insult you. Forget it.

16 omarcoming   ~  Dec 6, 2010 6:57 pm

Why did anyone,fans or media, give this whole non story any space or thought?

17 OldYanksFan   ~  Dec 6, 2010 7:06 pm

Mike Vaccaro was very right, and this whole thing hurt Jeter a lot. Remember this blog during the year, with cries to move Jeter down in the order, or sit him down, or 'another dish of pastadivingjeter', and yet another DP, and 'gee, wow... another weak grounder to short , what a surprise?'.

I hope Jeter's play comes back. I do. But if he continues decline, WE will be the first to crucify him. Girardi afraid to bench $17m? Cash and Co. with another crappy contract? And it will go on and on.

Jeter might be a hero to some, but everyone will turn on him if he plays poorly. Had he simply accepted the $45m and thanked the Yankees for their consideration, a decline would have gone easier on him. But now, these crazy demands will be with us for years.

Yeah... maybe we should have given him 6/$150m.....
Yeah... I'll just squeeze my eyes and pretend it's 1999.....
Yeah... Nunez and $51m looks VERY good now.....

and on and on. Just wait. I hope it doesn't happen, meaning Jeter will post at least decent numbers. But if not.... LOOK OUT! It WILL be ugly!

18 monkeypants   ~  Dec 6, 2010 8:00 pm

[17] I'll never be ready to crucify Jeter...just like I never wanted to crucify Bernie. Rather, I will crucify the manager who does not do his job by putting out the best lineup even if that means moving Jeter down or benching him.

19 Yankster   ~  Dec 6, 2010 9:33 pm

As a fan, winning championships is what it's about. But don't for a second think that's how either side of the professionals think about it. Baseball is entertainment and only entertainment. And in entertainment personalities matter. Actors that are stars but can't act for crap like Harrison Ford still have huge value because its not about skills. In my opinion, Jeter is one of the most bankable reliable on field personalities in baseball. Not only that, he's likely to last longer than his playing days as a baseball character. And the Yankees naively made it out to be about his on field qualifications. That strikes me as "baffling" too. This is showbiz, and in showbiz the House pays the Star a lot of money to validate the Stars importance. They certainly never ever do it because they're worth it. The only one who botched this process was Close. If the Yankees wanted scorched earth, he should have outlined what was coming next, a full tell-all book with a 10 million advance, for starters. A round on the talk shows about how limited the yankees owners intelligence and character really is. Thats how they did it in show biz and that's how Jeter should have leveled the field. His stats are absurdly irrelevant to his compensation. The on field player comparables are absurd too. Jeter stayed classy but I have to admit that I chuckle thinking about the eventual potential payback. Can't wait to hear about the next time Cashman slaps Jeter on the ass and says, "go get im tiger." His ridiculous elf head is unlikely to stay attached to his very long. At least in my imagination.

20 MichiganYankee   ~  Dec 7, 2010 1:04 pm

The case that I dread is that Jeter's decline will come faster than projected, that he will become an automatic out. Yankee fans were not afraid to boo Jeter when he had a month-long slump a few years ago. They certainly will not restrain themselves from expressing their displeasure if the slump lasts half a season. If Jeter bottoms out in year 3, we'll be able to grin and bear it. But if it happens in year 2, it will be painful.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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