With the San Francisco Giants’ decisive World Series victory, another baseball season has ended. For serious fans, the Hot Stove League may generate as much interest as the season itself, and while there will be many significant stories in New York this winter—will Cliff Lee sign with the Yankees? What will Sandy Alderson do in his first winter as Mets GM?—the biggest story is surely that of Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who is officially a free agent for the first time since the winter of 2000. So what’s next for Cap’n Jetes? Where will he land and what salary will he command? Here to discuss are Dan Mennella, author of Press sports column The Mennella Line and reporter for MLB.com; John Otano, Press sports columnist and “LIPressPicks Guru”; and Michael Patrick Nelson, Press editor-in-chief and Yankees fan.
Derek Jeter will be playing shortstop for the Yankees until the legend decides to hang ’em up. There’s no denying the immeasurable contributions Jeter has made to the Yankees during his time in New York and his next contract will reflect that. But does an aging Jeter necessarily mean a deteriorated Jeter? While he did post a career low in batting average, he still managed to score 111 runs, swipe 18 bags, notch 67 RBI while leading off, and he committed a career-low six errors in the field. Yes, there should be a drop in production that comes with aging players, but lest we forget his contributions as a clubhouse leader and former champion, his value can’t be translated into dollars to the Yankees. The team will wind up overpaying with something to the tune of three years and $60 million.
Jeez, that would be a tough pill to swallow. As a Yankees fan, I love Derek Jeter (NB: All Yankees fans are strictly required to say “I love Derek Jeter” in every conversation about Derek Jeter), but he was less than ideal at the top of the batting order this past season, and he’s never been a Gold Glove shortstop (even during the years he actually won a Gold Glove at shortstop). It’s hard to remember how good he was in 2009 after watching him in 2010: a year of first-pitch hacking and infield groundouts. Again, I love Derek Jeter. I’m just saying.
There’s certainly a measure of morbid curiosity here, especially if you hate the Yanks, as I do. Look, to me, the Yankees own all the leverage for the simple fact that Jeter is a shell of his former self. Ultimately, fans root for laundry, and GM Brian Cashman knows this all too well, which is why he allowed fan favorites Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon to walk this past offseason. I’m not saying he should go that far in this case, but I think this is a more-than-fair compromise: two years, $40 million. That way, Jetes gets to collect his 3,000th hit in pinstripes and is allowed to ride off into the sunset with a measure of dignity intact.
There’s no arguing Jeter suffered the worst offensive season of his career last year but even the shell of Derek Jeter is still better than a majority of the shortstops playing baseball next season. His contract will largely be dictated less by his recent play and more by his legacy as a Yankee, upcoming milestones and his place in baseball history. Jeter’s failures last year are magnified due in large part to the Hall of Fame career he’s spoiled Yankees fans with for the past 15 years.
I just read a piece in New York Magazine, wherein a trio of baseball writers were asked to estimate Jeter’s next contract: Their estimates ranged from a low of four years, $64 million (from Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated), to a high of four years for $100 million (via Alex Belth of Bronx Banter). These are not hacks, now—these are serious baseball analysts familiar with the Yankees. And I have to say, ANY of those numbers would represent to me enormously bad judgment on the part of the Yankees. To base his deal on his legacy would be suicide—and both Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner have said as much in recent interviews. I only hope they stay true to their word. I think something like three years for $45 million would be both reasonably sober-minded and appropriately respectful, and that’s my best guess at the final number, though I’d rather see them cap the deal at two years.
Jeter is a mystery inside of an enigma, and we know so little about him, considering his celebrity. That said, I can only base my estimate on what I know of him as a player, which is that his integrity and sense of timing are unparalleled. I’m banking on him taking a modest two-year deal because he knows he has nothing left to gain or prove. He’s rich beyond our wildest dreams and has accomplished just about everything he could have aspired to. If he retires with dignity and doesn’t allow his legacy to atrophy on account of malingering, it’ll only serve to strengthen his legend.