Things are starting to get ugly in the Bronx. The New York Yankees offered their legendary shortstop, Derek Jeter, a contract worth a reported $45 million over three years. Jeter is said to be looking for $60 million.
As a Tigers fan myself, I have hated the Yankees for as long as I have loved baseball, and yes, that pre-dates 1995. I hated the Yankees even when they struggled through the 80s. Despite his Michigan roots, Jeter has always been at or near the top of my least favorite player list. He’s a Yankee, after all. More than that, he is THE Yankee.
That said, the suddenly public negotiations between Jeter and the only organization he’s ever known doesn’t bring me any kind of joy. As much as I have disliked Jeter, I have grown to respect him for the player and person he has shown himself to be. No one wins in this scenario, not even Red Sox fans.
I see what’s happening in New York and I fear that fans will turn on Jeter. The greedy player always earns the scorn that the greedy owner is forgiven of. This is a game, after all, it’s difficult to comprehend that the men who play this game are paid so highly. We all played this very same game when we were young; we’d play it for free even today, given the chance.
It’s easy to look at the numbers that Jeter amassed last season and say he’s reached the twilight of his career. If the shortstop was any other player, a team like the Yankees would be actively pursuing his replacement. But he’s not any other shortstop, he’s the Captain; the face of the Yankees.
You could argue, and make a strong case, that it’s not good business to overpay to keep an aging superstar. It’s almost always better to let go of a player a year too soon than a year too late. That’s a sound strategy for 29 clubs in the majors, but for the Yankees and not with this player.
New York is flush is available cash; they have a new stadium, their own TV network, and more fans buying jerseys and hats than any club in the game. None of the above would be the case without Jeter’s career. In recent seasons the Yankees have thrown huge money at players like Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, and A. J. Burnett. They overpaid to keep catcher Jorge Posada when no other team in baseball would have given him a four-year deal, let alone matched the $52 million he’s still making.
As Ken Rosenthal points out, the Yankees have never drawn a line in the sand when it comes to outspending the league on a given player. Just two seasons ago, they offered CC Sabathia a full $30 million more than any other club. So why start this hard-line stance now, why with this player of all players?
When Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract during the 2007 World Series, the move cost the Yankees a hug sum of money. No longer were the Rangers on the hook for half of ARod’s salary. When New York reached a new agreement with Rodriguez, that money was all coming from the Yankees. Rodriguez was nowhere near as beloved and revered as Jeter, but they buckled and they once again gave Rodriguez a bigger contract than any player in baseball. They didn’t draw the line then, despite the rantings of the Steinbrenner family, so why do so now?
In all probability, Jeter wouldn’t fetch the offer the Yankees gave him on the open market. He’s 36 years old and coming off the worst season of his career. No one can be sure how much longer he can continue to patrol shortstop. That’s the Yankees way of thinking with their offer. They’re right to think that way. Where they are wrong is with their constant jabs at Jeter through the media. Hal Steinbrenner seemingly can’t make it through a day without demeaning his iconic shortstop and GM Brian Cashman all but dared Jeter to seek offers from other clubs.
Jeter has remained quiet and his agent, Casey Close, has refused to get into the dirty politics that the Yankees are wallowing in. That is Jeter’s way, after all. Jeter is the personification of class and dignity, two words rarely connected with the Yankees organization; at least by fans of other clubs. These negotiations have proven Jeter’s class and proven New York’s lack thereof.
In a perfect world, the negotiations would have stayed behind closed doors. The two sides would discuss the matter at hand personally and with respect for one another. Jeter is showing no disrespect in seeking what he feels he’s worth, and had it remained private, the Yankees would be showing none in making their offer. Reasonable minds can differ when it comes to negotiating a contract, and that’s okay, that’s part of it, but when one side decides to air their grievances against the other, no one wins.
Maybe it’s true that in terms of his remaining baseball career, Jeter need the Yankees more than they need him. But in the history of their franchise, few players have ever meant more than Jeter does. In drawing their line, they risk permanently damaging a wonderful relationship with one of their all-time greats.
Ultimately, Jeter and the Yankees will likely come to terms on a new contract. It will probably wind up paying him somewhere between the $45 million he was offered and the $60 million he seeks. At that point, even if he’s still upset with the way these negotiations have gone, Jeter won’t tell the media about it. The same cannot be said for the suits in the Yankees front office.
When it comes down to it, one thing cannot be understated; no player has meant more to one franchise in the past 50 years. Not Cal Ripken with Baltimore, not Tony Gwynn with the Padres, not even Ken Griffey Jr, who effectively saved baseball in the Pacific Northwest. No one has had the financial impact that Jeter has had on the Yankees. If that means they should do what’s right and overpay for his services, then that’s what they should do. The extra $15 million isn’t gong to bankrupt them, it isn’t even going to stop them from offering ridiculous contracts to the next big free agent. It won’t even make a dent.
And they should do it with the same quiet dignity and grace he has shown them throughout his career. Sadly, that’s just not the Yankee way.