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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.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: