Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"What is a free agent Derek Jeter Worth?" - I Read Something... Sport Notes - 10/12/10

I kind of wish I wrote something on 10/10/10.  It just seems like a historic date that slipped past without much of a mention; maybe it's because it was a Sunday and everybody knows that real reporters take Sunday off.

The following is an editorial that has been brewing inside for quite a while.  For those who know me, they know I am a very well-versed sports fan with high levels of knowledge in most of the major sports outside hockey and NASCAR (if you consider those major sports) but it is my acknowledged animosity towards everything Yankee related that leads to most of my sports related arguments.  In most topical discussions, I am a rational and even-keeled young man who bases opinions on facts, figures, projections, analysis.  But with the Yankees, all that comes out is detestation and contempt.

Living in the New York area, people often ask me the source of the rage, right after accusing me of being jealous.  My general inclination to be contrarian has led me to stick to being possibly the biggest Padres fan in New Jersey, along with my childhood love for Tony Gwynn and California in general. (My best thoughts and wishes go out to the Gwynn family with Tony's recent cancer diagnosis). 

Yankees fans in their mid 20s do not remember the very dry periods, from 1965 to 1975 as well as 1982 to 1994 they didn't make the playoffs.  They only know what its like to win.  They expect to win and collect their World Series Championship hats.  Most claim to be big Yankee fans, but don't know half the players on the team.  They enjoy wearing that devilish symbol and count on yearly parades.  They whip out phrases like "the Yankee way" and winning mentalities.  The newest one is the use of the "core" regarding the four central members of the latest dynastic period.  Don't even get me started on "the core."

It is not jealousy.  It is innate sense of fairness.  Soccer may be "the beautiful game"  but baseball is America's beautiful game.  Football is not beautiful, it's brutal and it is that brutality that people pay to see, cheering right after cringe-inducing tackles where one or both of the people involved could be paralyzed within seconds or slowly leading to the demise of their later lives.  Listening to the cracks and crunches of helmets and pads every single play is part of not the charm, but the fascination.

Baseball is a pretty boy's game, despite all the tobacco juice spat and smeared eye black.  Gracefulness fills the games.  Seeing a great pitcher conquer a lineup of hitters is the most impressive thing in sports.  The second most impressive is seeing a man like Vladimir Guerrero who can basically swing at any pitch and hit it with all of his might.  The free-swinger is a man lost in the current era of OBP and OPS and BABIP.  Albert Pujols strikes fear into opponents when he gets up to the plate but he will take those boring, old walks.  Men like Vlad and Ichiro Suzuki are up there to swing.  They don't spend four pitches up at the plate unless they've fouled a couple off.

Moments of majesty fill the sport.  Wicked pitches seeming to defy gravity and physics.  Clemente throwing a frozen rope from the right field corner to peg a man at third base.  The sight of a majestic fly ball flying out of the stadium, not just the field.  Immense displays of timing and power.  For those following more closely this year, it has been the year of the pitcher with a decade's worth of perfect games in a one season, not to mention plenty of no-hitters.

Yet, this is not what I sat down to write about today.  The impetus was the biggest target of my rage, the Yankee Golden Boy with the "patented" hop throw and his crowding the plate stance.  Do I even have to type his name?  Just thinking of his name gives me the chills.  Derek Jeter.  The biggest arguments I've had in sports have been regarding this man's overall value.  My primary argument, in a nut shell, has been that he is the most overpaid athlete in sports (leaving out jokes like garbage basketball contracts given out by Isiah Thomas or very dumb GM's, of which there are plenty). 

The basic tenet of the argument is that for a man that has averaged $18.9 million per year over the life of his previous contract should be providing more than he has.  It's amazing how quickly Yankee fans forget that they went the better part of a decade without winning a World Series.  If you don't remember, here's a list.

Between the years of 2001 and 2008, the Yankees were in the World Series twice and lose both times despite having the highest paid players and the highest salary by far in each and every one of those years.  Even the year of the excruciating Aaron Boone HR against the Red Sox in the ALCS, the Yankees lost to the Marlins in six games.  It seems to get lost in the shuffle that this great dynasty continually fell short of expectations.  Where are all those all important intangibles for those eight years?

Then in 2009, the Yankees broke the bank in a ridiculous way to sign the top two free agents - top pitcher, CC Sabathia and position player, Mark Texieira. They deserve praise for getting over the hump and winning the World Series?  Fuck that!  It's like when Chris Rock's joke about a father who says he "takes care of his kids."  The response, "You're supposed to you dumb mother fucker."  What credit is earned for overcoming a hump by continually bringing in the best free agents and having the ability to eat the money on any mistake you make(See: Kei Igawa, Kevin Brown, et al, as well as the 2010 postseason, where a $75 million dollar pitcher is relegated to the bullpen.)

In Jeter's career value in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Jeter ranks number 82nd right behind Tom Glavine, Jim Thome and right above Don Drysdale and Lou Whitaker.  That puts him in hall of fame company, but this level of adulation that a Yankee fan must give off when speaking of "The Captain" or "El Capitano" is out-of-sync with historical reality.  Just because he's right in front of you, playing every day and you see him with your own eyes doesn't necessarily make him the best player ever.  Not even close.

Only one shortstop in the history of the game ever signed a more lucrative contract as a shortstop and he now plays third base for the Yankees.  If Derek Jeter is such a leader and such a praiseworthy captain, shouldn't he have stepped aside when A-Rod came in.  But that would be unthinkable!  He's the captain, the prince of New York, the infallible leader in pinstripes.

At both of their peaks, A-Rod was widely regarded as a better shortstop.  Derek Jeter did not win the Gold Glove until 2004.  Do you know who won it the two years prior to that?  Alex Rodriguez. 
Wouldn't a true leader do what is best for the team?  He didn't do it when A-Rod came in and now he has a chance to redeem himself.

The issue with changing positions now is that the Yankees have signed high-priced, long term contracts at just about every starting position, unless he can set up in the eighth inning for Mariano Rivera.  Some say he could move to center-field, where they just traded for Curtis Granderson and have Brett Gardner, their new Johnny Damon, waiting in the wings as well.  Second base would be logical, but that's MVP candidate Robinson Cano's realm.  First base was mentioned in previous years as an option but Mark Teixiera is in the second year of an eight year contract worth $180 million.  The only spot would be permanent designated hitter, but not many designated hitters average less than 12 home runs per year for the last five years.  This position is slowly being taken over by another member of "the core," Jorge Posada.

At the end of this season, Jeter will be a free agent.  According to a recent Sports Illustrated article by Joe Posnanski entitled "The Old Man And The Fee" (good pun):

"... Jeter —like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman— has nowhere else to go. Sure, he could try to negotiate with other teams, but there likely aren't riches waiting for him outside of the Bronx. One baseball insider says that on the open market a generic 36-turning-37 middle infielder with Jeter's offensive skill set might demand something like a three-year, $18 million deal. Jeter has been making at least $20 million in each of the last four years. Jeter is a proud player, and he undoubtedly believes that he has another renaissance left in him. But the only team likely to bet big on a Jeter renaissance is ... the Yankees. They know it. And he knows it."

3 years, $18 million huh?  That is probably generous on the years side for any other organization.  No other team would sign a 37 year old short stop for more than a season or two at max.  Listening to local sports talk radio shows, hosts and fans
continually state that the team should "pay him whatever he wants, he's Jeter."  Why doesn't the captain take his fair market value if he is such a man of valor, understanding, leadership, and greatness? 

One interesting idea raised on Mike Francesa's radio show on October 11 was to make Jeter a player/manager.  If he is such a great leader, let's see what he can do!  At least, his over-sized contract would be tested with a huge task.  Maybe the golden boy would finally feel the heat because as a player, he is rarely criticized.  What happens when he makes a bad pitching decision?  Will fans boo him or ride him like they have the Joes, Torre and Girardi?  If they defer the criticism from Super Jeter, where will they point it?  The Yankee manager is a favorite target, but you rarely hear about Jeter being too slow to get to the ground ball up the middle or in the hole costing the team runs.  Could they criticize him as a manager for keeping himself at shortstop as he misses more and more groundballs that should be fielded?

I'll admit it.  Derek Jeter will be in the Hall of Fame and deserves to be there.  He has had a great career for a shortstop but his insistence on playing short and the perceived infallibility surrounding him as a player is misplaced.  He may be a gamer, a Iron Man of sorts (not on the level of Gehrig or Cal Ripken) but is he just Brett Favre in pinstripes?  He has more rings for sure but is he hurting the team just as much as he helps with his slumps getting longer, his numbers falling, and his range shrinking?  If Jeter had been the starting shortstop for the Reds, the Royals, the Mariners, the Tigers or any other team all these years, would the same results have followed?  Is there any other organization or era that he would still be playing shortstop?  These are hypothetical questions worth considering before his enshrinement.

The praise heaped upon Jeter
for his championship pedigree and production are just as likely due to his location (New York City) and the means of the team he plays for.  When questions such as "will Jeter get the highest first ballot vote in Hall of Fame history at short stop" get passed around, these are the facts that should be considered.  When people ask if he is the greatest Yankee of all time, or even in top 3 position players, the answer is no.  Just because he is playing now doesn't help him eclipse the greats of Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig, or Mantle.  WSJ has Jeter as number four ahead of the Mick. 

At this point, it is blind admiration and reminiscing that leads to the continued Jeter fervor and defense of his current play and skill level.  In the end, the most important part of the Yankee core in the last 15 years is Mariano Rivera without question despite his latest ridiculous Taco Bell commercial.  I have no doubt he could finish that XXL Chalupa despite his great shape.

Jeter's postseason prowess AKA "his clutchness" is probably his most lauded quality before where was the clutchness between 2001 and 2008?  A career .312 batting average with an .856 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) in the playoffs is excellent.  His playoff records include most hits (179), most runs (99), most total bases (272), and most plate appearances (651).  (Click over to Baseball-Reference For a complete list of individual career playoff records). 

No one has had more chances than Jeter to excel or fail. 
His numbers also benefit like many of his contemporaries such as Andy Petitte from inflation (Petitte has the most wins in postseason history).  More opening series against teams they own like the Twins.  When he does have a tough series they often lose. 

Second to him in many of these categories is his long time teammate and Latin Grammy nominee Bernie Williams, yet no one espouses that Williams is a Hall of Famer or the greatest Yankee.  More chances means heightened possibility of accruing statistical records.  He batted .148 against the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series and .200 against the Red Sox in 2004 and .176 against the Indians in the 2007 ALDS but those are aberrations.

The fact that the Yankees have never had a member of the 3000 hit club will play heavily into the negotiations.  At 2,926 hits, Jeter is only a few months away from entering that pantheon; a boon for a variety of celebrations and merchandising opportunities, especially with his perceived stature and fandom.  He is also one of the few "great" players to not change teams, although most that do leave a team it is for money.  Since he's on the Yankees, there's nowhere he would ever be paid more.  The Yankees will want to see him play out his career as a Yankee and become a highly paid ambassador for the team and the game like Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson are now.  They want him to come out on Old Timer's Day forever with that trademark smile and forever garner the greatest cheer.

So, it's interesting to see how rational the two sides of the negotiation will be after the season ends.  Will there be token visits to other teams?  A trip to Pittsburgh or Kansas City, a true reclamation project where he can prove how his intangibles can lead to championships.  I can only imagine seeing Jeter make an investigative visit to the Red Sox.  Oh, what a day it would be and what an image to have on the front cover of the Post.  Would he even make it out of Boston alive or New York for that matter? 
But that's only a dream. 

As an organization, the Yankees state they offer no incentives for Awards, All-Star appearances, or Championships because they expect their players to achieve those recognitions. They already pay their players astronomical salaries.  Will Jeter expect a bump if the Yankees come off back to back championships?  Will there even be negotiations?  Will Cashman just hand over a blank check for Jeter to fill in or will he stick to his guns and make a fact-based decision on Jeter's actual worth like he did for Johnny Damon?  I doubt it but we'll see in the off-season.  Maybe Cashman will offer him three years and $18 million. 

This will most likely be Jeter's last contract, his last grab for player's money in the twilight of an excellent career.  But the question is for most great players at this age, should he hang up the cleats?  For Jeter and Yankee fans, the question is how many more years it will be and what will a 40 year old Jeter look like in 2014?

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