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This past week, the New York Post published a photo of Derek Jeter in a Red Sox uniform after Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Jeter to see if he can find a better deal than the three-year, $45 million one he turned down. There’s no way Jeter would join the Red Sox, right? That’s like Roger Clemens or Wade Boggs heading to the Bronx…oh wait. That actually happened. Now that the Red Sox are willing to spend and willing to win every year under the relatively new ownership, you have to begin to wonder: will Derek Jeter be wearing a Red Sox uniform in 2011?
According to New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt, Jeter and agent Casey Close are seeking between $23 and $24 million per year for four or five years, which would take the shortstop past the age of 40 in Yankees uniform. In case you didn’t do well in math, there’s a gigantic gap between Jeter’s request and New York’s offer. So, what’s going to give?
First, before I tell you why the Red Sox should pursue and not necessarily sign Jeter, let me tell you something you already know. Jeter will remain in New York for the rest of his career, and it will probably be for about $18-19 million per year over four years (a compromise between Jeter and Cashman’s proposals). While that’s a lot of money to you or me or even a backup major leaguer like Gabe Kapler, Jeter is coming off a 10-year, $189 million deal, and he would like a pay raise for all that he has done over the years.
Jeter may be returning to New York eventually, but it will be a painful process. Why are the Yankees “low-balling” Jeter?
Well, let’s start by saying the Yankees are actually offering Jeter more than he’s worth. Looking at the Yankees shortstop without pinstripe-colored glasses, and you see a 36-year-old shortstop with diminishing range and weakening bat speed. The evidence?
Despite winning an unbelievable fifth Gold Glove Award a few weeks ago, Jeter was undeserving, and that’s a nice way to put it. He led AL shortstops with a .989 fielding percentage and just six errors in 151 games, and if you leave it at that, then you agree that Rafael Palmeiro deserved his 1999 Gold Glove Award. In that season, Palmeiro played just 28 games at first base and most of the rest at DH, but hey, he only had one error!
You see, there are defensive metrics to prove Jeter should not have won the 2010 Gold Glove at SS. His range, as you may have noticed, has diminished even more as the years have gone on. Despite his trademark running-backwards-jump throw to first base that dazzles simple fans and managers alike, Jeter is an average, at best, major league defensive player.
Using the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is often viewed as a fair judgement of a player’s defensive ability. UZR measures “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.”
“I hear about this UZR, Ultimate Zone Rating. And I saw Robinson Cano has a negative Ultimate Zone Rating. That is absolutely crazy,” Teixeira said. “Robinson Cano is by far .. . the best second baseman I’ve ever seen and he’s a negative defender by that Ultimate Zone Rating. So I don’t put any stock into those things.”
Taking Tex’s biased look out of the picture, let’s place Jeter in this metric. It turns out he was the sixth worst shortstop in all of baseball (minimum 1000 innings), posting a -4.7 rating. A 0.0 rating indicates that a player is average when compared to other shortstops’ range during that same season. In simpler terms, Jeter likely cost his team more runs than he saved.
OK, so he’s no Ozzie Smith. What about his bat?
Jeter has been one of the most consistent players in all of baseball over the last 15 seasons, but we have reach a point where we can finally question his ability to keep it up. For the first time in his major league career, Jeter hit under .290 over the course of a full season in 2010. In fact, he hit just .270 with a .340 on-base percentage and a weak .390 slugging percentage, the lowest in his career.
Usually, players bring their games to new levels in their contract years, but Jeter had the worst year of his career, which indicates the decline may have already taken shape. Bill James has released his early projections of Jeter’s 2011 season (assuming it’s with NY), and he predicts the shortstop will hit .295 with a .365 OBP and .410 SLG.
They are pretty good projections…but is an aging shortstop with poor range and slowing bat speed really worth $19 million? How about $15 million?
Based on numbers alone, Jeter is probably worth about $10 million per year for a maximum of three years (and I think I’m being generous on the length of the potential deal). But, the Yankees almost have to consider goodwill and his past performance when reaching their final agreement with the future Hall-of-Famer. (It’s worth noting that in the past, that hasn’t stopped them: Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, and even the Babe finished their careers with other teams.)
Without George Steinbrenner running the show in New York, it would appear the Yanks are going to play hardball until someone dares them otherwise. If George were still alive, he probably would have ordered Cashman to finish the negotiations quickly and behind closed doors, but this is a different administration in New York, one that is willing to watch their wallets a bit despite their gigantic budget. Jeter will play baseball next year, and Cashman and co. are gambling that no one will offer the shortstop anywhere near the amount of money he’s looking for.
That’s where the Red Sox step in. Aside from the Mets, Angels, and maybe a handful of other times, they are one of the only ones that can afford Jeter’s services. What would it hurt to talk to Jeter? If anything, it would force the Yankees to shell out more money over more years, until they are stuck with a 41-year-old Jeter making $19-20 million as a washed up, backup infielder.
Jeter will likely reach 3,000 hits next year, and if he plays six more years, he has a real outside shot at 4,000. If Jeter sets that mark or any other record in a Red Sox uniform, George will roll over in his grave and the Yankees faithful will collectively vomit. Imagine Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat…while wearing a Yankees uniform. Hell, imagine David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia finishing out their careers in pinstripes. Scary thought, huh?
The potential of Jeter joining the Red Sox could sway the Yankees to spend a bit more on their legendary shortstop. It should, at least. In the most likely scenario, as stated earlier, Jeter will sign a four-year deal at around $19 million. In that situation, Jeter can’t complain he’s taking a pay cut (he’s coming off a contract in which he averaged an $18.9 million salary), and he can walk away from the situation with his head (sort of) held high.
Red Sox involvement in the negotiations could push the Yankees to add a year and a few million dollars per year on their offer. In that case, the Red Sox would cost the Yankees at least an extra $25 million (by my estimation). What’s the harm in that?
Well, if the Red Sox “make an offer” to make the Yankees spend more and Jeter actually signs on the dotted line with Boston, that’s probably the worst-case scenario. Tread softly, Theo. Tread softly.