Yankees' owner Hal Steinbrenner spoke on 1050 ESPN New York on Tuesday and said that the team wants Derek Jeter back in pinstripes, but that it has to be a business decision and the negotiations could get "messy".
Today, Jeter's agent, Casey Close, responded to Steinbrenner's comments. "While it is not our intent to negotiate the terms of Derek's free-agent contract in a public forum," Close told AOL FanHouse, "we do agree with Hal's and Brian [Cashman, the GM]'s recent comments that this contract is about business and winning championships. Clearly, baseball is a business and Derek's impact on the sport's most valuable franchise cannot be overstated. Moreover, no athlete embodies the spirit of a champion more than Derek Jeter."
Derek Jeter is about to become a free agent for the first time in his career, having come to the end of a 10-year, $189-million dollar contract. While it is widely believed that Jeter will be back with the Yankees for not only next season, but for the rest of his career, do fans have any reason to worry?
Jeter's free agency doesn't even begin until this Saturday at midnight and already the two sides have butted heads. It is important not to read too much into these comments, but it's hard not to see the makings of a bigger problem.
The Yankees find themselves in an incredibly unique situation. Derek Jeter will most likely finish his career as one of the most beloved Yankees of all time and to a generation who didn't get to see guys like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth play, he already is. Next season, Jeter will get his 3,000th career hit, the first Yankee in history to do so.
Do you really believe Jeter will do that in any other uniform?
Based on the comments from both Steinbrenner and Close, the two sides have the same basic idea. Jeter is important to the Yankees, that's obvious, but what is not so obvious is how the two sides feel about why he is important.
To the Yankees as an organization, Jeter is the face of the franchise. He's a home-grown player who has come up big time and time again. They don't call him Mr. November for nothing. Jeter is worth more to the Yankees than any other team. No one would give Jeter the kind of money the Yankees are going to give him and Yankees GM Brian Cashman has already said they're going to overpay for Jeter's services. It's just a question of by how much.
Jeter may feel though that his worth to the organization is still with his skills and not so much with his name. The truth is, it's both. Jeter is still a key piece in the lineup, but he wont always be productive and he wont always be able to field the position well enough to stay at shortstop.
The Yankees wont negotiate on playing time or position or anything like that, but it has to be in the back of their minds.
I believe Jeter should receive a contract somewhere in the range of three to four years, at about $23-$25 million per year. Now, a few things to keep in mind. One, Jeter is coming off the worst statistical season of his career and his negotiating position is weaker as a result. Two, Jeter is also getting older. His defensive skills are clearly slipping and he wont be able to play shortstop for his entire career. At some point, he'll have to move.
I've also heard rumors that Jeter is looking for a contract in the range of six years and that could be where the problem lies. While the Yankees will never say so publicly, it is clear that they are willing to give Jeter a lot of money, even though his skills as a player may actually hurt them down the line.
In the end, it doesn't really matter how much Jeter asks for. He is not only the face of the Yankees, but he's the face of baseball as a sport. He's probably the most recognizable face in the game and the Yankees aren't going to forget that.
The media wants this to be a messy, bloody negotiation because it would be a great story. The fans just want their shortstop.