Derek Jeter is still a free agent, much to the surprise of the entire baseball community.
Jeter's agent, Casey Close, has said that he is "baffled" by the way negotiations are proceeding and how little respect the Yankees organization is showing for their most iconic player.
"They continue to argue their points in the press and refuse to acknowledge Derek's total contribution to their franchise," said Close, overlooking the fact that the Yankees have already paid Jeter more than $200 million over the course of his career.
Does Close really drink his own Kool-Aid?
The Yankees have already offered Jeter a three-year deal worth $45 million. But the 36-year-old Jeter wants at least four years and has indicated he'd like to play until 2017.
If Jeter wants to play until he's 43 when he'll be relegated to utility-man duty, then that's his prerogative. But the Yankees shouldn't have to suffer because of it.
The $45 million contract that Jeter has already declined is not only fair, it's about 50 percent more than what he'd receive on the free-agent market. Close is trying to take advantage of Jeter's historic relationship with the team to inflate his client's value.
That's fine, if it wasn't for one problem: Jeter's value is already inflated to the point of bursting.
Let's be perfectly clear here: Jeter is not a $15 million-a-year player. He may not even be a $10 million-a-year player, and the notion that he should be given a nine-figure contract is more asinine than the $19 million Carlos Lee made last season for a .708 OPS.
By the Numbers
Jeter had a major drop-off in production in 2010, though naturally he was still an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. His .270 batting average is more than 40 points below his career average of .314. His OPS dropped to .710 after reaching .871 in 2009. He hit eight less home runs (10) and stole 12 fewer bases (18) than he did in 2009, despite playing in four more games.
Jeter's agent will argue that 2010 was an aberration and that Jeter is still an elite player. Or he may just be a 36-year-old shortstop with more than 2,000 games under his belt who may finally be on the decline.
It would be irresponsible for the Yankees to handcuff themselves to a player whose best years are clearly behind him, and is a defensive liability (despite what voters might tell you).
But they're the Yankees! Can't they afford to overpay everyone? Well, yes, they can. But it's not in their best interest to do so, especially for a player like Jeter.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman is in a difficult position here. He can't let Jeter sign elsewhere—it would be a PR nightmare. But he also can't let Jeter dictate what his value to the franchise is.
If Cashman simply hands over a blank check to Jeter, then future aging Yankees stars will be inclined to demand the same. What happens when Alex Rodriguez asks for his third career nine-figure contract at the age of 41? What happens if Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada decide they never want to retire and keep cashing paychecks into their 50s?
At some point the Yankees have to draw a line and stick to it. It may be the richest franchise in professional sports with bags of money bursting in every corner of Yankees Stadium, but that's not an excuse to flush it down the drain by over-committing to someone like Jeter.
New York would be well served to make their stand now, rather than later. They could cut ties with Jeter and find a stopgap solution like Jason Bartlett for a few years, and then go hard after Hanley Ramirez when the Marlins superstar becomes a free agent. Or they could fold and give Jeter exactly what he wants.
Both decisions have dire consequences, but only one decision threatens to cripple the Yankees franchise.
Jeter's accomplished enough in New York. It's time for him to take his overrated talents elsewhere.
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