I'm only throwing it out there because the possibility is indeed real. It will all boil down to a series of decisions, with Jeter's player option for the 2014 season at the center.
As Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com wrote this week, it's possible that Jeter won't exercise the option he holds for 2014, which right now is worth $9.5 million. If he has a good year in 2013 while making $17 million, he may not be willing to take such a significant pay cut.
It's a possibility that the Yankees are probably hoping they won't have to deal with, as their plans for 2014 are complicated enough as is thanks to their goal to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. They also already have several notable free-agents-to-be to worry about.
Regardless of what they're hoping for, it's one of several scenarios regarding Jeter's 2014 option that the Yankees had better prepare for.
And they are...
Jeter Has a Poor/Mediocre Season and Opts In
Jeter turned back the clock and played better than anybody could have expected in 2012, hitting .316 and leading the league in hits with 216.
It was vintage Jeter, and it was a season that further cemented him as one of baseball's invincible players.
...But this doesn't mean 2013 will bring more of the same. As great as Jeter's 2012 season was, there are a couple things that could prevent him from doing it all over again.
One is age. As Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory wrote in an ESPN Insider piece this week, high ages and high batting averages don't tend to go hand-in-hand. In Jeter's case, the biggest question mark is whether he'll be able to achieve a high batting average by way of a high BABIP.
Jeter has one of the highest career BABIPs in major league history and was among the leaders in BABIP at .347 in 2012, but BABIPs that high are rarely seen at advanced ages. Throughout baseball history, only three players have managed a BABIP as high as .347 in their 39-year-old seasons.
So in attempting to repeat in his 39-year-old season in 2013 what he did in his 38-year-old season in 2012, Jeter will be attempting to do something extremely rare.
That's one red flag, and there's an even bigger one next to it: Can he do it all on a surgically-repaired left ankle?
If he can't, then his batting average could slip well below the .300 mark, which would crush his overall value seeing as how he's no longer an elite baserunner and a well below-average fielder.
If it comes to this, Jeter will know better than to push his luck by declining his 2014 option. Instead, he'll take the $9.5 million—up from $8 million thanks to his Silver Slugger in 2012—and look to go out on a strong note in what will be his 40-year-old season in 2014.
If Jeter does accept his option for 2014, he will have saved the Yankees the major headache of having to figure out a new contract for their captain. That's not a process they want to go through again after the drama that unfolded between them and Jeter after the 2010 season.
However, the Yankees won't be celebrating Jeter's decision to accept his option. If that's the decision he makes, it will be because he had an uncharacteristically poor season in 2013, and that means the Yankees would be worried about a repeat in 2014. They wouldn't be paying him $17 million, but $9.5 million is still a lot of money to pay for an old and declining shortstop.
At the same time, there's a limit to how much the Yankees can pull for Jeter to have a great season in 2013. They'll be thankful for the production, but the offseason would bring some familiar drama.
Jeter Has a Good/Great Season, Opts Out and Re-Signs
The numbers suggest that Jeter won't be as good in 2013 as he was in 2012. Even those who care little for numbers have to admit that his ankle could lead to a down year.
But this is Derek Jeter we're talking about. Even knowing all about his old age and his balky ankle, betting against him doing anything is never advised. He hasn't achieved his reputation as a baseball immortal by accident.
Though the BABIP concern is very real, it's not unheard of for a 39-year-old player to hit over .300. In fact, it's happened 14 times before, and the list is populated by greats like Barry Bonds, Paul Molitor, Ted Williams, Tris Speaker and Honus Wagner.
Jeter could join their company. If he does, he will have proven once again that he is, well, Derek Jeter.
A batting average over .300 likely wouldn't come with improved power, baserunning or defense, but a high batting average alone would be good enough to make Jeter one of the most valuable shortstops in the league. And if that's what comes to pass, he'll have the excuse he needs to decline his option for 2014 and demand more money.
Then the circus would start all over again. Since Jeter gave the Yankees a .300 batting average for their $17 million in 2013, he could ask for another $17 million in 2014. He could further tighten the screw by demanding an extra year at the same salary they're prepared to give him for 2014.
The Yankees would surely resist, but in the end they could come to compromise. Something like $14 or $15 million instead of $17 million, with maybe another option year instead of a guaranteed year. That could be good enough for Jeter.
However, such a raise would complicate the Yankees' plans to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. More money spent on Jeter means less money to spend on other players, and that could mean the departure of one or more of the club's free agents.
The most notable of the bunch is second baseman Robinson Cano, who may already be destined to leave New York. Beyond him, the Yankees also have center fielder Curtis Granderson and starting pitcher Phil Hughes to worry about.
Giving Jeter a raise wouldn't necessarily stop the Yankees from re-signing one or two of them, but it would probably kill whatever likelihood there is of all three of them coming back.
This is assuming that Hal Steinbrenner stays committed to his master plan. He might be willing to deviate from it, as he told Ken Davidoff of the New York Post that $189 million will only be the goal so long as he sees a "championship-caliber team," but that's a big might.
Hal also said this:
Hal: Getting under $189 mil isn't just a 1-year goal: "I believe that you don’t have to have a $220-million payroll to win a championship."— Ken Davidoff (@KenDavidoff) January 10, 2013
So despite the fact Hal is willing to keep his options open, he still sounds like a man who is convinced that he shouldn't have to spend any more money than he absolutely has to. In other words, he still doesn't sound like his late father.
That could mean cutting corners with cheaper free agents after giving Jeter a raise next winter, but it could also mean a decision that a raise for Jeter wouldn't be in the club's best interests.
Jeter Has a Good/Great Season, Opts Out and Signs Elsewhere
When Jeter last tested the free-agent waters in 2010, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman challenged him to find a better deal than the one they were offering.
"We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account," Cashman said, via Marchand's article. "We've encouraged him to test the market and see if there's something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That's the way it works."
Jeter could not find a more preferable deal, ultimately choosing to accept the Yankees' three-year, $51 million offer.
At the time, that looked like an overpay. Jeter was just coming off a season that saw him hit a career-low .270 with a career-low .710 OPS. The Yankees gave him top dollar anyway, presumably because it was Derek Jeter they were dealing with.
If Jeter declines his 2014 option, the Yankees may play harder ball with him than they did in 2010. He could insist on a $17 million (or higher) salary because of his numbers and his name, and the Yankees could insist right back with something like $12 million based on the risk they'd be taking with his age.
Another option would be to make Jeter a qualifying offer, which would require the Yankees to pay him less than they paid him in 2013 if he were to accept it. If he were to decline it, the Yankees would get a draft pick if Jeter were to sign with another team.
The Yankees could view that as the best possible outcome, as they'd get a coveted pick and would have an excuse to go and sign a cheaper and much younger shortstop to take Jeter's place.
There will be options for the Yankees if they decide to go that route. They could go for Stephen Drew if he has a bounce-back season with the Boston Red Sox in 2013, or perhaps on Jhonny Peralta or defensive wizard Brendan Ryan.
These guys don't have Jeter's star power, but what they do have in spades relative to Jeter is youth. They also have skill sets that would come in handy. When healthy, Drew is a solid hitter and fielder. Peralta would be a defensive upgrade over Jeter and he has some solid pop in his bat. Ryan is easily the best defensive shortstop in baseball.
And, of course, any of the three would be cheaper. In a day and age when the Yankees are obsessed with their payroll, cheaper is better.
If one thing leads to another, the club's desire to go cheap could be Jeter's exit from The Bronx.
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