Will he’ll be the third best shortstop on the team in a couple years? Sure. Don’t his career numbers make him a rich man’s Craig Biggio? Of course. But the Yankees need Derek Jeter as much as the Yankee captain needs the pinstripes. The Yankees are built on quiet professionalism and championship legacy, and no player, now or on the horizon (sorry, Robinson Cano), represents the Yankee brand like Derek Jeter.
Don’t believe me? Well, close your eyes and imagine Jeter in an Astros uniform. Then open them and read the top nine reasons why the Yankees need to pony up and sign Derek Jeter before it’s too late.
He does commercials with Roger Federer and Peyton Manning. He has hosted Saturday Night Live and his relationships have become regular fodder for the tabloids. He was the SI Sportsman of the Year just last year. In a league that markets none of its players, he is the most culturally transcendent star baseball has; the biggest celebrity at the highest profile position on the league’s most decorated team in the largest market.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ treatment of their captain this off-season has been harsh and puzzling. Their only offer is for 3 years/$45 million. Sounds like government bailout figures to Yankees fans, but the contract would put him on par with fellow shortstops Rafael Furcal and Jimmy Rollins, and just ahead of Marco Scutaro. Each are talented shortstops, but how many Seinfeld appearances do they have?
Not signing Jeter would give the impression to Yankee fans that they have chosen the most inappropriate of moments to err on the side of fiscal responsibility. In years past they have given outrageous contracts to Carl Pavano, Jason Giambi, and A.J. Burnett among many others. Remember Kei Igawa? In the next few weeks they’ll outbid themselves for Cliff Lee, offering as much as $140 million for the star pitcher.
The Yankee business plan over the last yen years has been an unparalleled success, affording them the resources to spend recklessly, and without buyer’s remorse. So why play hardball with the man who helped perpetuate the Yankee brand for the last fifteen years?
Jeter holds the key to the Yankee lineage. Yankees management and fans are married to the idea that Jeter is the heir to the Yankees legacy, the next capstone in monument park.
There is no one close to taking his place as the face of the franchise. A-Rod and his one championship ring have yet to capture the hearts of Yankees fans, and Mariano Rivera is approaching the end of his Hall of Fame career. Without Jeter, this franchise can win championships but they will lack the legacy so essential to fans and ownership.
The core four is about to be the core zero. Jorge Posada has been told he has lost his starting job behind the plate. Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera are all free agents, and while the last two are likely to re-sign, both are approaching the end of their careers.
Eras end and this one is about to. But if the Yankee brass is responsible for ending it, what message does it send to the fans who supported their remarkable run?
It turns out the new ballpark is not so easy to sell out. The new Yankee Stadium had 15 sell-outs last year, down from 58 in 2008, the final year of the old Yankee Stadium. The new Stadium features more luxury boxes and personal seat licenses than any other ballpark.
Meanwhile, Derek Jeter happens to be 74 hits shy of 3,000, a milestone he should reach during the dog days of next summer. More fans, merchandise, and broadcast revenue during his approach should generate some return-on-investment in a hurry
Cashman has spent his off-season alienating Jeter and his agent, saying that even Babe Ruth took a pay cut at 36. Recently, he invited Jeter to “shop” around as a free agent, as though he hopes Jeter winds as a third-base coach for the Boston Braves, like the Babe did.
By low-balling their franchise player, Cashman is de-valuing the Yankees brand he and the Steinbrenners have worked for years to create. Drawing out the process of re-signing Jeter through the media pits Cashman against Jeter in a public display. Jeter is popular enough to be mayor of the city when his career is done. That would make Cashman a loser in the eyes of baseball fans around the country, even if the Yankees eventually sign their captain.
Let’s just say Hank Steinbrenner is the sort of person who needs a popular face-of-the-franchise guy around. The Yankees co-chairman said this past week that, “as much as we want to keep everybody, we’ve already made these guys very, very rich, and I don’t feel we owe anybody anything monetarily. Some of these players are wealthier than their bosses.
Steinbrenner ended a two-year silence in the media to make a feeble stab at sympathy for the billionaire class. Nobody needs a class act around to disperse attention more than junior Steinbrenner.
Ah, here is the heart of the issue. It’s not about baseball—if it were, yes, he would be overpaid. In the fourth year of his contract—when he can’t make the natural move to 1B or 3B because of other overpaid Yankee free agents—he likely will be a spray-hitting part-time DH.
Jeter’s point is that he wants to be paid for his value to the franchise, a value that has risen into the multi-billions since is arrival in 1995, and continues to rise. The new stadium and the Yankees’ YES network make them the several times more valuable than most other teams, a figure that has far surpassed expectations with Jeter leading the way on the field.
The fact is that if the Yankees were Goldman Sachs, Jeter would be a billionaire by now.
Jeter is the symbol of quiet professionalism on the field, and the Yankees are too. As contract talks have degenerated into a war of words, the Yankee captain and fans have grown alienated. There is the sense that Jeter has no leverage and that fans have grown impatient with his demands. This is hardly the quiet professionalism that is the hallmark of the team.
Before any more damage is done to the Yankee legacy—before Jeter winds up a Cincinnati Red—ownership needs to pony up and pay the man.