It’s time people got real about what Derek Jeter means to “The Yankee Brand”

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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.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.