Yankee Cornerstones and Free Agency? Fughettaboudit...
Some of the best advice I've ever received was to always "Go with what you know." And in that regard, all I've known for fifteen seasons as a blindly dedicated Yankee fan is that come Opening Day there are three constants: Jeter at short with the jump-throw, Freddie Sez wandering the Stadium with his cast-iron skillet, and Mo with the cutter to close. A set destined for Cooperstown...maybe Freddie Sez might have some trouble getting in (The Yankees even gave him trouble getting into the new ballpark...but that's another article for another day). Things really haven't changed much for the Pinstripes. After a nine year hiatus from the Promised Land, the Bombers made it back and order was restored to the Baseball Universe. After a shortened offseason, the Yankees seem poised to pave the Road to Repeat Town in 2010. Go ahead, I'll give you a minute to call me a "homer" and "frontrunner" Done? Good. Blow it out your moneymaker.
As we approach baseball's regular season, two of the game's brightest stars prepare as they always have: in Tampa, in Pinstripes. We're all familiar with the stat-packs on Jeter and Rivera, we all know they're first-ballot no-doubters, and we also know they'll end their careers in the Boogie Down...right? Ideally, the Yankees would have negotiated extensions with the pair in the offseason; essentially locking them down for life in pinstripes. But idealisms don't function in baseball and the truth of the matter of is that Yankee fans are left with the possibility that two cornerstone constants in the lineup may not be there come 2011. Relax fanatics, I said it was a possibility, not a likelihood. But open your creative sports minds for a moment and just picture either superstar in another uniform. It just doesn't seem right. Like Chad Johnson (I refuse to acknowledge him as OchoCinco) on the forthcoming season of "Dancing with the Stars (see: Has-been's)", there are certain boundaries that need not be crossed.
The longstanding Yankees' front office policy of only negotiating new contracts in the offseasons following expiring contracts is prudent. The policy affords the team the ability to gauge the market and feel out the other free agents before committing to their own. Savvy business move, stupid popularity decision. Baseball is a business. It's a huge business. That's understood. But who fuels that business? Fans. Who cheers the dingers, boos Papi, and drinks the beers? Fans. Without a happy fan base, there is no business. So why not break from tradition, for once, and ink a pair of legends? A chance to keep two stars who are guaranteed to put money-filled pockets in the seats would be foolish to let pass. And if business is business, then the right business move would be to preemptively sign Mr. Jeter and Mr. Rivera to contracts worth their while and finally end any potential discomfort of having to part ways. Fans are customers. We want good product. Jeter and Rivera are top-shelf performers.
For my generation of New York City sports fans, it would be heart-ripped-from-your-chest awful to see Jeter and Rivera enter free agency. When the Yankees let lefty Andy Pettitte walk after the 2003 campaign, I wasn't mad...I was disappointed. I understood the ramifications of the situation, family matters and going home, et al. But to see Pettitte don another cap sans the interlocking NY made my stomach turn. Here was a homegrown talent just entering the his prime walking away from the Yankees. It must have felt like watching your kid go off to college; you know he's doing the best thing for himself but you can't wait for him to come back a little wiser, a little longer in the tooth. And Pettitte did come back.
It's not as if Jeter or Rivera have really given free agency a chance. The Captain's always wanted to be a Yankee, multiple Suzyn Waldman interviews stand as proof positive. Rivera, in the post-World Series celebration said he wanted to end his career in the Bronx. Let's just end the ambiguity already.
Running the risk of sounding like a broken record of Sinatra's New York, New York, Jeter and Rivera have proven themselves as exceptional players. So why not make an exception and deviate from policy? Mr. Cashman, get it done. Put ink to paper and lock them up. Go Yankees...Red Sox suck.
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