I promise: I’ll stop writing about Derek Jeter when something else happens. But since there ain’t nothin’ else happening, more Jeter it is. This time a fisking of Ken Rosenthal’s latest. He thinks the Yankees are treating Derek Jeter poorly and harming “The Yankee Brand.” I think this is a bit silly.
Just answer me this: Why are the Yankees taking such a harsh stance, devaluing their franchise player and effectively damaging their own brand?
The harsh stance? Because they can. And it’s worth noting that when they failed to take harsh market-based stances against other free agents they were excoriated for skewing the salary structure of Major League Baseball.
But let’s be clear about something: the $45 million offer on the table — which may actually increase — does not “devalue” Jeter. It overvalues him. The Yankees are being generous with that offer, because it’s at least half again more than what any other team would offer him. And even if it was a “devaluing” deal, the devaluation is attributable to time and the degradation of Jeter’s skills, not anything the Yankees have done in the past week of negotiations.
And the brand? Please. To suggest that their somewhat sharp dealings with Jeter will harm the Yankee brand is to misunderstand the nature of the Yankee brand. Babe Ruth was left to dangle at the end of his career. Reggie Jackson wasn’t even given an offer to come back when his deal was up. Bernie Williams was given the cold shoulder. Even if Derek Jeter was forced into signing with the Nippon Ham Fighters the “Yankee Brand” would carry on just fine.
Is Jeter asking for that large a contract?
Yes. Yes he is. And I’ve yet to see anyone, even the most adamant Jeter backers, make an actual case for him to make more than $15 million a year for the next three years. Chase Utley makes that and he’s better than Jeter. It’s more than Hanley Ramirez makes. Unless the argument is that people fill up Yankee Stadium specifically to see Derek Jeter and not the New York Yankees, I can’t see any “intangibles” case that justifies $15 million a year, let alone more.
Do all those empty premium seats at the new Yankee Stadium have club officials spooked?
The Yankees are a sophisticated business that prices their seats based on what the market will bear. If the empty seats spook them, they’ll adjust prices, like they just did. They also probably realize that the single biggest factor in attendance is wins and losses, and it’s a lot harder to win with a massively overpaid 37 year-old shortstop on the decline as opposed to a merely moderately-overpaid 37 year-old shortstop. Don Mattingly was on the team in the late 80s and early 90s. Everyone frickin’ loved Don Mattingly. Don Mattingly didn’t bring anyone to the ballpark on his own.
Are the Yankees trying to send a message to their other free agents, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte?
They’ve been sending Andy Pettitte messages for years. Remember that $5.5 million deal he signed before the 2009 season? This is not unprecedented.
What is it?
I don’t think it’s anything other than a negotiation between a baseball team and a player. To the extent anyone is reading larger narratives into it or is finding injustice here it’s because they believe Derek Jeter to be different in kind than other players. He’s not. He’s a shortstop. A Hall of Fame shortstop to be sure, but he’s still just a shortstop. If he played in any other city he’d be pilloried for asking for the kind of money for which he’s asking.
Eventually, all of the rancor will diminish and the two sides will reach agreement, probably on a three- or four- year deal worth $18 million to $20 million per season. But Jeter might not easily forgive.
If the Yankees give Jeter between $18-20 million a year by the time this is all said and done Derek Jeter should not be in the business of forgiving. He should be in the business of kissing Brian Cashman full on the lips and thanking him for his outrageous generosity.
The Yankees have overpaid for countless other players, virtually all of them inferior to Jeter. Rarely do they draw the line in contract negotiations, as they soon will demonstrate again in their all-out bid for Cliff Lee. Now they’re going to start? With Jeter, of all players?
This is the line of reasoning that has driven me the craziest over the past few days. For one thing, it’s counter-factual, and you need only look at that Pettitte deal and many other deals out there. The Yankees overpaid Alex Rodriguez. They ended up overpaying for a few others based on the performance they got in return, but gave them market or slightly-above-market deals at the time. The list of players the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants have overpaid is way, way longer than the list of players the New York Yankees have overpaid. The Yankees have signed expensive players. They have not, however, comically overpaid nearly as many players as people pretend they have.
But let’s say they actually are the worst overpayers in the history of baseball. Why must they continue to be? Why should dumb financial decisions in the past require that they continue to make dumb financial decisions now? The Yankees have been signaling for some time that the Alex Rodriguez deal was a mistake. If Casey Close told Jeter “don’t worry — they’re going to overpay you too,” he has seriously misread the tea leaves. Both common sense and history have made it clear the the Yankees aren’t as crazy as they used to be. George is dead. Hank is Fredo. Hal and Brian Cashman are running the show, and they are doing exactly what they should be doing. And it has worked.
Though the numbers might suggest otherwise, Jeter does not see himself as Marco Scutaro. Nor should he. Not after helping the Yankees enhance their brand to the point where they could start their own regional TV network, build a new stadium and yes, generate enough revenue to buy players such as — ahem — Alex Rodriguez.
The quality of the Yankees teams between 1996-2010 have built that brand. Those championships have built that brand. Derek Jeter did not, in and of himself, build that brand. He had help, every single year, in making the Yankees what they are. He has been handsomely compensated for his contributions, but make no mistake: if it was just him and a bunch of scrubeenies, there would be no YES Network or Yankee Brand.
Yes, Jeter is 36. Yes, his decline only figures to accelerate. Yes, the question of how long he will remain at shortstop is a real issue. But his on-field performance next season is almost certain to include his 3,000th hit. Jeter is 74 hits shy of the milestone. And let’s just say the Yankees are going to make a little extra coin when he gets there.
Tell you what: let’s take the average historical attendance and TV ratings for whatever date it is Jeter hits #3,000, subtract it from the actual ratings and attendance on that day, and write a check to Jeter for the balance. If he is so incentivized, Will a $15 million deal then be sufficient?
Look, I don’t mean to pick on Rosenthal here. He’s not saying anything that a lot of other columnists aren’t saying. I just think everyone is having a real perspective problem with this Derek Jeter business. Rosenthal compares Jeter to Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle. The Yankees marched on without Ruth and DiMaggio, actually improving in both quality and marquee value after each of them left, depending on how you measure such things. They faltered terribly in both regards, however, when a declining Mantle was surrounded by a poor cast and ownership started to make poor business decisions.
It’s not the player. It’s the team. The Yankees are being more than fair with Jeter. They don’t want to lose him obviously, but they would do just fine without him. To not acknowledge that is to ignore the history of the team and the reality of Jeter’s contributions.