Jeter Saga Just Step One for Yankees

Posted: December 7, 2010 in Major League Baseball

By Ari Roth

If you were hiding under a rock for the past month, all is once again right in Yankee Nation. Last week Derek Jeter, the Yankee’s captain and unquestioned leader, re-signed with the only professional team he has ever known. Jeter and the Yankees agreed to a deal of three years and $17 Million per year, with a player option for the fourth year at somewhere between 5 million and 17 million dollars, depending on Jeter reaching certain performance levels in the contract’s first three years.

As fans, we are still trying to figure out how personally Jeter and his followers took to these negotiations. Jeter wasn’t even talking to the Yankees’ brass for a couple weeks after what he viewed as an insulting first offer and an ultimatum from Brian Cashman to accept the deal or test the free agent market. Even earlier today, when it was announced that Jeter’s press conference would take place in Tampa Bay, the longtime home of the Steinbrenner family, there was speculation that Jeter had refused to do the presser in Orlando at the site of the ongoing Winter Meetings, as the Yankees wished.

It’s my bet as a Yankee fan that Jeter will attempt to regain his trademark, sterling image when the cameras point his way tomorrow, but there is a cloud of uncertainty, even in this proposition.  Words will be micro-analyzed by the hounding New York media, and the questions might not stop for a while. Supporters may point out that Jeter has dealt admirably with thorny issues in the past, such as the steroid scandals of former Yankee Jason Giambi and current Yankee teammate, and assumed rival, Alex Rodriguez. I will point out that never before has Jeter himself been the center of the issue, especially with his allegedly huge ego potentially being threatened. And this isn’t even the end of it! A big issue being talked about prior to the signing was Jeter’s diminished range at the key defensive position he patrols, and a succession plan were the problem to exacerbate. On this issue, Jeter has shown no willingness whatsoever to change positions when the time comes, like many of the greats before him, such as Cal Ripken.

Through all this, we have not even discussed what is perhaps the most important issue that Jeter must deal with: We simply have no idea how much gas the Yankees’ golden boy has left in the tank. After all, Minka Kelly’s man will turn 37 in the season’s third month and attempt to prove that his career-low .710 OPS, over 100 points below his career average, was a fluke and not an indicator of things to come for the aging shortstop. Rumors abound from those who watch the game closely that Jeter has lost some bat speed, causing his patented inside-out swing to go haywire and produce ground balls at an alarmingly high rate.

Ultimately, I believe that the Yankees were right to take a hard line with Jeter. No other team would have offered Jeter even the three years and $45 Million that the Bombers initially offered. For his part, Jeter saw the ludicrous 10 year, $275 Million deal that a similarly aging Alex Rodriguez signed with the team just 3 years ago and wondered why he wasn’t being treated as well, or better, than a highly productive, yet psychologically enigmatic Rodriguez, unlike Jeter with his myriad of intangibles and leadership skills.  But baseball is a business.  The Rodriguez money was sunk by the second Hank Steinbrenner, eager to make his mark on the team immediately after being given control by his legendary father George (Editors Note: Apparently George can’t buy his way into the HOF). Hank decided to give A-Rod a blank check despite the fact that A-Rod had no other suitors (A pattern somehow typical of Scott Boras clients, Jason Werth anybody?). Making one bad move doesn’t require you to make another.

Jeter finally realized this before it was too late and came back to the negotiating table. Even in his worst hour as far as publicity goes, Jeter maintained his usual team-focus, and not a minute too soon for his squad. Following the rival Boston Red Sox shrewd acquisition of superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez yesterday, the Yankees are now under pressure to fire a bullet back across the bow of Red Sox Nation in the two teams’ annual game of “anything you can do, I can do better”. Standing pat by resigning Jeter and closer extraordinaire Mariano Rivera will not be enough.

At the winter meetings, Cliff Lee will be foremost on the Yankees’ minds, something that would have been impossible had the Jeter saga kept going for any longer. Should the Yankees get Lee, a 1-2 playoff punch of CC Sabathia and Lee could be the Yankees version of the 2001 Diamondbacks, who boasted both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. If Jeter and Mark Teixeira can regain their form on offense, the Yankees should get their wish and go into the playoffs next year as one of the, if not the, top contenders to win the World Series in 2011. I am definitely looking forward to yet another pennant chase between the bitter rivals, the Yankees and the Red Sox. For now, enjoy the winter meetings.

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