Sam Borden raises a question that is quietly sneaking up on the Yankees: what is to be done about Derek Jeter’s contract? His 10-year, $189 million contract expires after next season, when he will be 36 years old. What do you pay an aging shortstop, who just might be the most popular player in your team’s history?
It’s quite the conundrum, as Borden points out: “Normally, you might be inclined to offer two years, $20 million for a high-end shortstop entering his 36- and 37-year-old seasons. Do that here and you’ll probably be laughed out of the room.”
I don’t think, however, that the situation is as tricky as it may first appear. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Jeter playing for any other team, but this benefits the Yankees in negotiations as much as it benefits Jeter.
Jeter means more to the Yankees than he does to any other team. A corollary of that is, basically, that no other team is going to match the Yankees first offer.
Now, Jeter’s not going to settle for two years and $20 million, but the Yankees aren’t going to offer him that. Say they offer him four years, $60 million, similar to the three years, $45 million they gave Rivera before last year. This is only half of the $120 million contract Borden imagines, but is any other team even going to come close to that? Who wants to pay a shortstop, whose defense is much maligned (often unfairly, but still), $15 million when he’s 40 years old?
To a new team, Jeter just isn’t worth that kind of investment. It’s very hard to see a new free agent, particularly one in his late thirties, becoming the “face” of a franchise, and it’s nearly impossible to see Jeter’s face on any franchise but New York’s. Jeter’s offensive totals, while valuable to a Yankees lineup that has had the likes of Jason Giambi, Tino Martinez and Alex Rodriguez hitting behind him, are not the kind that you can build a lineup around. His rapport with fans and the media of a new team will basically be nonexistent. In short, Jeter just isn’t going to command the kind of money on the open market that Mark Teixeira did.
But to the Yankees, he is even more valuable than Teixeira. Jeter is, and has been since 1996, the face of the franchise. He has been a model of statistical consistency throughout his career. He’s the clubhouse leader, the Captain of the team and one of the final constants from the dynasty years. Plus, he will be heading toward the end of one of the greatest careers we have ever seen. In 2011, the first year of his new contract, he will likely be closing in on 3,000 hits. He was the key to four World Series titles in New York and has been involved in some of the most iconic moments of the sport’s last 15 years, including his game-winning home run in the 2001 World Series, the infamous Jeffrey Maier play, diving into the stands against Boston and the Flip (my god, the Flip!)*. Plus, with his inside-out swing, the new Yankee Stadium will probably double his home run totals.
*Despite being brought up in every discussion of Jeter’s career, this play is still underrated. Everyone remembers the iconic image, taken from the third base side of home plate, of Jeter shoveling the ball to Posada, but that, of course, was not how the play was initially shown on television. The reason that image is remembered over the original video is because the live broadcast damn near missed the play completely. Jeter had to travel practically off-screen to get to the ball. I remember watching it live and not being completely sure what happened because the throw from the outfield was so off-line and the play had broken down so quickly. Yet Jeter managed to not only get to the ball and field it, but also instinctively flip it accurately Posada for the out.
Will they likely have to move him to the outfield by the end of a new contract? Probably, but it’s not like the Swisher-Gardner-Cabrera outfield is going to be around for a decade anyway. Will they be paying him more than any other team would? Certainly. But the Yankees are used to that, and Jeter is worth more to New York than he would be worth to any other team. He is, after all, the one “true Yankee.”