This sure got ugly, didn't it? Who could have seen this coming?
The Yankees arguing about money with their captain. Everybody knows money doesn't mean anything to the Yankees, just get him signed already Cashman!
Funny thing is if money really doesn't mean anything to the Yankees it makes signing Jeter long term even worse. When you take money out of the equation it comes down to an even more precious commodity in baseball: playing time.
If it's not what can the Yankees do with the money, then it's what can they do with those 600 at bats. There is no salary cap, but there is still a limit of 27 outs a game and 162 games a year. The truth is that last year Derek Jeter didn't do all that well with those 600 ABs.
If you are following this, I am sure you have heard the numbers so I won't waste your time repeating them here. I'll just say that last year Jeter had the lowest slugging percentage and second lowest on base percentage among Yankee starters.
For those who hope it was just a one year slump consider this: in 2009, despite hitting at a .334 clip, his slugging percentage of .465 was ahead of only Melky Caberra of those on the starting line up. If you're hoping the captain will revert back to his 2009 form, I guess it's possible. But, then again, what's the value in that?
The real question is whether or how you can quantify his leadership qualities and his value in the club house?
I'm a great believer in chemistry and leaders are often the hardest thing to find; however, there comes a point where the same qualities that make someone a leader also become a hindrance to the team. For example, the low slugging percentage is a far worse factor because Jeter rests at the top of the line-up. Put that bat at the bottom of the line-up and those are decent numbers, but because it's Jeter you can't do that.
Suppose it's the sixth inning and the Yankees are down a couple of runs; the opposing pitcher is showing some signs of faltering by letting a couple of guys on base. Next up is Jeter, but you really want to give one of those left handed pinch hitters you have on the bench a shot, because you know a hit here could turn this whole game around. But it's Jeter, and even though he hadn't stung the ball his first couple of trips to the plate, you have to leave him in there.
What about late in a game and the Yankees are ahead by a run or two? Can you put in a defensive replacement? Sure, I know he won a Gold Glove last year, but anyone who follows those things knows that Jeter has been an average at best fielder throughout his career.
What if Jeter has been struggling a little? Does the manager leave him in there a bit longer, hoping he can hit his way out of it?
Another thing we hear is Jeter may have to play another position. My question is this: Wouldn't that make it worse? Finding a better option at shortstop is a lot harder than finding a better outfielder or designated hitter. With the way the Yankees can spend money, finding a DH who can hit better than Jeter isn't even a question. If the Yankees have a better option at shortstop, then the best place for Jeter is on the bench.
If we take all the emotion out of it, the whole question comes down to whether the Yankees have that better option at shortstop.
I guess plan B would be to play Eduardo Nunez, which might not seem like much of a plan after all. Just remember that there is no doubt Nunez is a better fielder and, with Jeter's production in a downward path, his hitting might be as good. This fact would be especially true if the Yankees can hide his bat in the 8 or 9 hole and pinch hit when ever they feel the need. Adding a veteran back-up, the sum could easily equal the on field contribution of Jeter.
Of course, we know the Yankees wouldn't sit there with Nunez. Maybe the biggest cost to signing Jeter long term is that it doesn't allow the Yankees to fill the shortstop position whenever a decent opportunity comes along.
This doesn't mean that Jeter doesn't have some mystical value; obviously, he does. I don't know if I buy the increased attendance for his chase to 3000 hits. Most of the fans this makes a difference to are Yankee fans first, indicating that it may not have an effect on how many extra games they would attend.
The presence in the locker room is real, but how big is it if he's not producing on the field or sitting on the bench? If Jeter is getting time based on his name rather than statistics, then that presence will turn negative in a hurry.
Obviously, we all know this will eventually get done; Jeter will be the starting shortstop on opening day in 2011. But what happens after that? Will Jeter accept a reduced role or can we expect to see a weak singles hitter near the top of the Yankees line-up for a while longer?
Come to think of it, the Yankees should up their offer today. Why not five years Cashman?
Come on, it's Jeter. You guys owe him.