It’s pretty tough to bounce around the Internets without stumbling onto a picture of Derek Jeter, shirtless and hanging out with his fiance, Minka Kelly. That’s just the way it goes when the free-agent market is as tissue-thin as it is this winter, but moreover, that’s the way it is when it’s Derek Jeter.
Jeter, the captain, shortstop, glamour boy and link to the Yankees’ ghosts, has been the hot stove story thus far, mostly because the negotiations with the club haven’t gone all that well. At least that’s the portrait painted by the hyperbolic New York press, where the reports claim there is an $80 million and two-year gulf between the player and his team.
Actually, the consensus is the Yankees are daring to go to another team as if Jeter’s act only works in New York City. You know, because popular players who bat at least .291 in 15 straight seasons heading into 2010 with five World Series rings while just 74 hits shy of the magical 3,000 hit mark have difficulty adapting.
But this isn’t about history, loyalty or legacies. This is 2010 and even though Jeter might be the modern version of Joe DiMaggio, it’s the money that matters.
No, it’s not personal. It’s business.
It’s really a ridiculous phrase if you stop and think about it. Actually, it’s one of those idioms that is an established part of our lexicon that results in solemn nods or resigned shoulder shrugs whenever someone lays it out there.
Well, it’s just business.
What in the name of Gordon Gecko does that mean?
Apparently, it means Jeter and the Yankees are trying to save face. It means if the world is a rat race then it’s OK to be a rat. It means Tessio is going to have to go for a ride with Tom Hagen and he’s not going to be able to talk his way out of it. Not this time.
Tell Mikey it’s just business, it’s not personal.
That’s exactly what this standoff is all about. Jeter doesn’t want to take a cut in the 10-year, $189 million deal he just completed and the Yankees want to stop being the Yankees to guys like Derek Jeter. Instead, the Yankees want to be the Yankees to Cliff Lee and make a deal with the lefty that will make Jeter’s look like tip money. Certainly the three-year, $45 million the Yankees reportedly offered Jeter will look like loose change found in the cushions of the couch compared to what Lee is expected to command.
So what we have here is a situation where one side has to determine the worth of its counterpart. Certainly Jeter is one of the most popular players in the game, and even though he just wrapped up his worst season where he established career lows in batting (.270) and slugging (.370), those within the game rate him as one of the top handful of players. However, at 36, Jeter’s age and defense is an issue. Plus, the Yankees have already paid Jeter more than $205 million in salary where as the Yankees’ captain and shortstop, he is one of the few baseball players with an elite-level Q-rating.
Jeter wants four to five years. These days, the length of a contract is the deal-breaker for most ballplayers, simply because unlike in the NFL, MLB deals are guaranteed. Look at Jayson Werth and the Phillies—in that situation, a deal likely could be brokered for three years, but Werth wants more, and he’ll probably get it. No, Jeter probably doesn’t need the money a guaranteed deal ensures, but if he’s healthy he’s going to get a chance to play with a five-year deal.
Five more seasons could put Jeter on the cusp of 4,000 hits, a milestone reached by only two hitters in Major League Baseball history. In fact, Pete Rose, the all-time hit leader, was exactly 10 hits behind Jeter at similar points in their careers. Rose had just turned 37 when he collected his 3,000th hit in his 16th season. Jeter will likely get his 3,000th career hit around his 37th birthday in his 16th season, too.
Interestingly, I met with Rose in Las Vegas a couple of years ago and asked him if he thought anyone could break his record of 4,256 hits. The answer, of course, was a blunt and resounding, “No.”
But I pressed on anyway, ticking off names as if we were a couple of baseball fans talking about the game in a bar or wherever. Only in this case it was Rose, me and the workers at a memorabilia shop in Caesar’s Palace where the all-time hit king was signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Even though A-Rod averages 190 hits per 162 games, his tendency to hit homers and standing in the middle of the Yankees’ offense might make it difficult for him to get beyond 3,800 hits.
“If he would have started out playing in the U.S., maybe. But he lost all those years.”
Yes, that’s true. Ichiro would have the best chance if he hadn’t spent the first half of his career playing in Japan. He is 36 and has nearly 3,500 hits between both Japan and the U.S. and needs just 16 more hits this season to break Rose’s record of 10 seasons with at least 200 hits.
Regardless, Ichiro’s nine “lost” seasons in Japan cost him.
However, the way Rose so quickly dismissed the next name was kind of surprising.
“Derek Jeter,” I said.
“No,” said Pete.
“Really? Why not? He gets 200-hits a season and hits at the top of a lineup that needs his to get hits. Ten years worth of 200 hits or close to it is nearly 2,000 hits. That adds up.”
“Yeah, but he’s 35,” Pete said.
What Rose didn’t mention was that when he was 40, he led the National League in hits. He also played first base in his first four seasons with the Phillies, a far less demanding position than shortstop, and got 705 hits from ages 38 to 41. That comes to an average of 193 hits per 162 games.
Not bad for an old guy.
In another coincidence, Rose was just a year older than Jeter when he left Cincinnati for Philadelphia and the Phillies and WPHL (Channel 17), ponied up a record $3.225 million over four years (with an option for the fifth year) to give the old man. Times were different, of course. With Rose, the Phillies sold more tickets and Channel charged more for ads. Philadelphia also got to see Rose pass Stan Musial for the hit record in the National League. Better yet, the Phillies won the World Series in 1980 made it back there in ’83 and made the playoffs in 1981.
In other words, the Phillies needed Pete Rose.
Do the Yankees need Derek Jeter? Will Jeter help the Yankees sell more tickets or attract more advertisers to their TV network? Probably not. But will he pass some meaningful milestones at Yankee Stadium and help the team get to the playoffs where the cash really rolls in. Additionally, will signing Jeter prevent the Yankees from going after players like Cliff Lee?
Jeter’s value is found in the answer to those questions.