It’s been quite an interesting week in Yankeeland, at least as it pertains to the Derek Jeter negotiations. During an interview on 1050 ESPN Radio, Hal Steinbrenner discussed the on-going contract talks:
"We absolutely want him back. ... But having said that, we're running a business here, so if there's a deal to be done, it's going to have to be a deal that both sides are happy with."
"Who knows? You just never know with these things. Both parties need to be happy with the deal, and that may make things more complicated, I don't know.
"There's always the possibility that things could get messy."
Wow. Are the Yankees playing hardball with the face of the franchise? I don’t know. After years of lavishly spending money on old, overpriced free agents, I have a hard time believing they’re going to start exercising fiscal restraint with Jeter. On the other hand, these aren’t your father’s Yankees anymore. Big Stein passed away earlier this year, and there’s a new sheriff in town that seems to be a little more bottom line oriented.
As I discussed two weeks ago, this isn’t going to be an easy negotiation. For starters, Jeter isn’t that far removed his 2009 MVP caliber season (7.1 WAR) where he posted a .390 wOBA, and (for the first time since 2002) posted a positive Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) on defense. Then it all came crashing down. Or did it? When looking at the four year sample of 2007-2010, 2009 appears to be the clear outlier. While Jeter should get some credit for his tremendous 2009 season, it’s probably smarter for the Yankees to focus more on the production of 2007, 2008, and 2010 when projecting Captain Jete’s future value.
Then there’s the issue of his intangible value. On Thursday, Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, told AOL Fanhouse:
"While it is not our intent to negotiate the terms of Derek's free-agent contract in a public forum, we do agree with Hal's and Brian [Cashman, the GM]'s recent comments that this contract is about business and winning championships. Clearly, baseball is a business, and Derek's impact on the sport's most valuable franchise cannot be overstated. Moreover, no athlete embodies the spirit of a champion more than Derek Jeter."
And out it comes. Jeter and his agent are going to play the leadership card in an effort to get more money out of the deep pocketed Yankees. I can’t say this isn’t a smart move because it is. While I think that Jeter’s intangible leadership qualities are vastly overvalued (notice that I did not say overrated), he’s going to get paid for those qualities whether he re-signs with the Yankees or if he signs elsewhere. Of course, we all know the payout for those qualities will be greater if he re-signs because (a) the Yankees are capable of paying players more than any other team, and (b) Jeter’s intangibles have greater value to Yankees than anyone else because of his position in Yankee history.
Jeter is reportedly interested in playing until he’s 42, and may be looking for a six year deal. Why 42? Well, for starters, playing another six years could get him within striking range of 4000 hits. Considering his current rate of regression, it probably won’t happen. It probably would put him in the top 5 (or maybe even top 3) of all time. Second of all, A-Rod’s contract expires when he’s 42. My guess is that Jeter wants the Yankees to show him the same level of commitment and trust to perform at a high level into his twilight years, as they did with A-Rod. The problem with that is that the Yankees made a huge mistake in signing A-Rod to that contract. Signing a 31 year old player to a ten year deal for that kind of money is never a good idea—and A-Rod was coming off of a fantastic season. Jeter, on the other hand, is 36 years old and coming off of the worst season of his career. If the Yankees cave into Jeter’s demand for a six year deal, they deserve their fate—a team of overpriced veterans that consistently struggles to keep their record above .500.
Ultimately, Jeter and the Yankees need each other. Jeter needs the Yankees because being a career Yankee preserves his legacy. With another 74 hits, he would become the only Yankee to ever accumulate 3000 hits with the team. The Yankees need Jeter because he’s their Captain. Plus, can you imagine the media thrashing they would receive if A-Rod remained on the team, and Jeter was allowed to walk as a free agent? Talk about a scandal… Eventually, a deal between the two parties will get done. Hopefully (or not because this is turning out to be one of the better storylines of the offseason), this gets done quickly and quietly behind closed doors. Then again, I’m not sure that will happen. For two parties that have publically stated they don’t want to negotiate through the media, they don’t seem to be doing a very good job so far.