MLB Offseason: Dispelling the Rumors; Derek Jeter Does Not Belong in Boston

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MLB Offseason: Dispelling the Rumors; Derek Jeter Does Not Belong in Boston
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The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy recently entertained the idea the Red Sox would make a serious run to sign free agent shortstop Derek Jeter.

Rumors of a Jeter-to-Boston move have been afloat since negotiations between Derek and Yankees ownership have significantly chilled. Then, the New York Post ran a picture of Jeter on the back page, sporting a photo-shopped Red Sox jersey and hat.

As a Red Sox fan, I find the prospect of Jeter ending his career in Boston quite humorous. If he were a fairly inexpensive player and fine with the idea that his role as a starter wouldn't be guaranteed over the long term, I wouldn't have much of a problem with the Red Sox going after him.

But Derek Jeter is not a role-player. He's made it perfectly clear that he's not looking for a pay cut or a hometown discount. While the idea that Jeter could get his 3,000th career hit in a Boston uniform is a nice thought, it's not worth $45 million.

In his article, Shaughnessy's normally mediocre prose bordered on putridity. Vast, unsupported generalizations tumble over each other, all in an attempt to appear relevant and in the know. Statements like these are peppered all over Shaughnessy's piece:

"I don’t care if Jeter is way past his prime or if the Sox would have to wildly overpay a player of his diminished skills."

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The fact of the matter is Shaughnessy is wrong. Derek Jeter doesn't belong on the Boston Red Sox.

As most of you know, catcher Victor Martinez recently signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. The move was, for the most part, unpopular in Boston, as his bat has been one of the strongest presences in the middle of the Red Sox lineup over the last season-and-a-half.

But the move, however unpopular, can be supported by the idea that the Sox would likely end up overpaying for him. Catchers notoriously begin to decline in their early mid-30s; Martinez will be 32 to start next season. The Sox don't want to commit multiple millions of dollars to a player who will likely end up only a part-time catcher, making just as many appearances at DH or 1B as he would behind the plate. The declining role of the DH in the AL is giving managers more and more roster flexibility, so Martinez' numbers wouldn't warrant a permanent residence their or at first base, perhaps the deepest position in baseball.

Jeter, just like Martinez, probably has limited time left as an everyday Major League shortstop. No longer the athlete he once was, the 36-year-old doesn't range nearly as far in the hole as he used to, and his defense has suffered. All signs point to an eventual transition to third base or even DH.

So, I'll pose this question. Why would the Red Sox sign Jeter to a deal of similar or greater length/money to the deal Martinez received from Detroit? Both pose the same questions in terms of long-term production versus their career dominance of their respective positions. The only differences? Martinez is four years younger, and hasn't begun to slip yet. Just compare their 2010 numbers:

Jeter:         663 AB   179 H   10 HR   67 RBI   .270/.340/.370

Martinez:   493 AB   149 H   20 HR   79 RBI   .302/.351/.493

 

Given the same number of ABs as Jeter, Martinez would have well exceeded him in hits, and already surpasses him in every other offensive category. Martinez is a better fit for Boston than Jeter is, but the Red Sox let him go. It just wouldn't make any sense to then pursue Jeter.

And if Jeter were to come to Boston, he probably wouldn't have a role as the shortstop. It might not seem like it, but the Sox have some decent options in the six hole going into 2011. The Red Sox have veteran Marco Scutaro under contract for one more year and $5 million. His 2010 numbers might not seem that impressive...until you compare them to Jeter's:

Jeter:     663 AB   179 H   10 HR   67 RBI   .270/.340/.370

Scutaro: 632 AB   174 H   11 HR   56 RBI   .275/.333/.388

 

For one fourth of the cost, Scutaro provided nearly identical production to Jeter in 2010.

Also, there are a number of underlying factors that fans of other teams might overlook when evaluating Scutaro's performance in 2010. Despite playing nearly the entire season with neck and shoulder injuries, Scutaro appeared in 150 games for the Sox in 2010. He was one of the few constants on an otherwise injury-laden Red Sox team. Scutaro's injuries severely impacted his range going to his right side, yet he was reliably defensively. Also, with runners in scoring position, Scutaro's offensive production increased dramatically:

RISP: 128 AB   38 H   2 HR   48 RBI   .297/.380/.375.

 

So, taking all of these factors into account, one truth remains.

Marco Scutaro was a better player than Derek Jeter in 2010.

Also, 26-year-old SS Jed Lowrie finally put it together last year for the Red Sox. Once touted as one of the organization's better prospects, Lowrie has been hampered by wrist injuries and even mononucleosis over parts of three seasons in the big leagues.

But when Dustin Pedroia went down the for the Sox last year, and injuries started to put serious doubts on Boston's playoff hopes, Lowrie got his shot. And he delivered. Just look at his August/September splits:

August:        20 G   56 AB   4 HR   8 RBI   .304/.400/.571

September:  24 G   83 AB   3 HR   10 RBI   .265/.344/.458.

 

While his September numbers were not as good, they weren't bad by any stretch of the imagination, especially considering this was really the first time Lowrie had played an extended period of time as a Major League starter. 

Lowrie did quite a bit of shuffling around defensively last year (as did every healthy body the Red Sox had) in order to account for all the injuries. He actually made more appearances at second base than he did at short, and he even appeared in six games at first base. However, Lowrie's splits at shortstop, his natural position, remain astronomical:

As shortstop: 23 G   71 AB   6 HR   13 RBI   .324/.422/.648.

 

Albeit in limited time, that's still an OPS of 1.070. Like I said, astronomical.

It's no secret that GM Theo Epstein has clearly been a fan of Lowrie ever since he made his debut with the team in 2008, and he'll likely be able to seize the majority share of the shortstop duties from Scutaro, providing he shows good signs in spring training 2011.

The Red Sox did fine in the shortstop department last year. In fact, it was one of the few stable areas of output they had. But Shaughnessy would have you believe different. He would have you believe that a homerish obsession of showing the Yankees up is more important than putting a solid product on the baseball field:

"Jeter is closing in on 3,000 hits. Imagine if he gets his 3,000th hit as a Red Sox . . . at Fenway . . . against Mariano Rivera?"

It's a nice thought, Dan, but it's one for the movies. Pragmatically, it's not plausible.

Also, it's no secret that the Red Sox could possibly lose the best offensive player they had last season, 3B Adrian Beltre, to free agency. If Jeter were to come to the Red Sox, that would likely be his position.

But, the Red Sox would likely have to well outbid the Yankees current offer of three years and $45 million in order to bring him in. Reports have surfaced that Jeter is looking for $20 million or more per year for 4-5 years. If they're going to spend that much on a corner infielder, why not just bring Beltre back?

Rumors of a five-year, $64 million offer from the Oakland Athletics have been floating around for the last few days. Whether or not this offer is in fact legit, something around that is a good estimate of what it would cost to bring Beltre back a member of the Sox.

So, when the dust is cleared, I think the Red Sox would rather have the younger, better defensive player and better offensive player (Beltre) than Jeter, especially considering the fact that their contracts could end up similar in both years and dollars.

But since the Red Sox didn't bring back Martinez, and could possibly not bring Beltre back—they've obviously got some extra dough lying around. This is what Shaughnessy would have the Sox do with it:

"I say offer him the world. Forget about Jayson Werth. Blow Jeter away with dollars and years. At worst this would just mean the Sox would jack up the final price the Yankees must pay. It could be sort of like Mark Teixeira-in-reverse."

Shaughnessy would rather blow it all on one guy. He doesn't think that guys like Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth are worthy of a large contract. He makes no mention of shoring up the bullpen with guys like Scott Downs, or the possibility of an Adrian Gonzalez trade and extension. Nope. Instead, he'd rather the Red Sox spend it all on Jeter.

Apparently, Shaughnessy doesn't see "the harm" in completely avoiding reason:

"What’s the harm in offering Jeter $20 million a year over three years? If you can pay J.D. Drew $14 million per year . . . if you can pay a Japanese team $50 million just for the right to speak with Daisuke Matsuzaka . . . if you can buy a futbol club for $476 million, why not spend $60 million to bust pinstripe chops for all the ages?...If Jeter actually signed with Boston, the damage to the Yankees’ psyche would be inestimable."

What's the harm? Last time I checked, giving aging players very large, long-term deals isn't the best way to go about winning championships, or building an organization for continual, long-term success. With Shaughnessy, it's not about reason, it's not even really about baseball for him. Rather, he still thinks it necessary for the Red Sox to needle and prod the Yankees at every given opportunity.

But does he not forget? The Yankees-Red Sox relationship is no longer what is used to be. No longer are the Boston nine the whipping Boys of the Bronx Bombers. Last time I checked, the "curse was reversed" already in 2004 and the Red Sox lead the Yankees in championships for this decade, 2-1.

There might've been a day where all Red Sox fans had to look forward to was the chance to embarrass the Yankees. But no longer. Those days are over. Still a formidable opponent, the Yankees are no longer the dynasty they once were; they're no longer the perpetual oppressor that tormented Boston fans ever since that fateful day in 1920, when the Sox sold the greatest power hitter to ever live for a mere $100,000. 

The fact remains that with their financial flexibility and currently strong roster, the Sox are in just as good a position as anyone to win the American League East next season. But, to Shaughnessy, that means nothing if they can't show up the Yankees in the process.

What he fails to realize, however, is that winning is the greatest burn of all.

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