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A case was made at Sports of Boston over the weekend for the Red Sox pursuing New York Yankees’ iconic shortstop Derek Jeter, given the free agent’s unsuccessful contract negotiations with his former team. The argument seems to have gained some sway amongst the Boston sports media, as Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote in Tuesday’s edition that the Red Sox should offer him a contract, and a big one at that. His reason: “to bust pinstripe chops for all the ages.” But, as with most things Shaughnessy, the minutiae of his argument do not hold up under scrutiny.
Shaughnessy is almost correct that, should the Red Sox sign Jeter, “the damage to the Yankees’ psyche would be inestimable.” He’s missing a key word, and that word is “fans.” Yankees fans would be incredibly dismayed to find their superstar heading to their rival team. But the team itself? Maybe not so much. Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners have made it abundantly clear that if Jeter can find the kind of money he’s asking for elsewhere, he should go ahead and take it.
If the Red Sox give him the six-year, $150 million contract he wants, the Yankees ownership group will wash their hands and call it a fiscally sound move to let the shortstop go. The fans will be mad, but no organization runs itself at the often capricious whims of the fans. Not the Yankees, and certainly not the Red Sox, who have shown repeatedly that they will not budge on their fiscal plans just to keep popular players. And when (not “if”) Jeter starts to struggle, even Yankees fans will start feeling better about their team’s decision.
Shaughnessy also says, “there is simply no downside to making Jeter a massive offer. In the worst-case scenario he calls your bluff and you get the Yankees captain. I don’t care if Jeter is way past his prime or if the Sox would have to wildly overpay a player of his diminished skills.” Well, that’s actually a huge downside, which Sports of Boston’s KC Downey makes clear in his argument. Jeter, who will turn 37 next June, is already showing serious signs of decline. His RBIs have dropped each of the last three years, while his strikeout total has gone up. His batting average dropped 60 points between 2009 and 2010. Defensively, it’s more of the same. His putouts have dropped each of the last three years, as has his range factor. He is, in short, getting old.
Should the Red Sox make Jeter a big offer, what’s more likely: that the Yankees top it or that they pull their offer entirely? If the latter happens, the Red Sox will be stuck with an almost unmovable player being paid so much they can’t fix the real problems they have (bullpen depth, third base). As a comparison, ask yourself this: who looked better after Pedro Martinez signed with the New York Mets? If Jeter can’t help the Red Sox win or, even worse, becomes a true liability, the Red Sox won’t have the last laugh just because they stole a key player. That honor will belong to the Yankees.
Finally, there is the problem that the Red Sox already have not one but two major-league caliber shortstops on their team. On that situation, Shaugnessy simply says, “Jeter could play third. Or you could trade Marco Scutaro and put Jeter at short.” Really? Jeter could play third? According to who? Jeter has never played third base in the majors. To repeat: not once in 2,274 games has Jeter ever played third base. And even if he could, that transition would mean a huge power downgrade from the 2009 season at that position, and you’d have to find it elsewhere, since Scutaro isn’t a power shortstop (that era has ended). Trading Scutaro for a power-hitting third baseman (or conceivably a first baseman) is an option, but you’d still have Jed Lowrie to worry about. At some point, the Red Sox will have to decide whether Lowrie is in their long-term plans, and they’ll never learn that until he finally gets a full season in the majors. If you sign Jeter, you either have to play him at a position he’s never played, or you have to sit Lowrie behind another shortstop who’ll be on the Red Sox for probably five more years. By that point, all of Lowrie’s potential will have been completely wasted.
There is always the chance with Shaughnessy that he’s being facetious. He often comes off as phony in his articles, the tone he writes with sounding contrived, not genuine. When he says things like “forget about Jayson Werth,” you start to get the feeling that he’s just blowing smoke. There’s also a questionable use of the Spanish word for soccer in his depiction of Red Sox’s egregious spending habits. To use the term “futbol,” then give it emphasis, suggests that soccer’s popularity among Hispanic people somehow diminishes the decision to buy an English Premier League team. Did Shaughnessy do any research on the profitability of these teams? EPL players make very good salaries, so the league must be doing pretty well. It’s quite likely that with John Henry’s business savvy, New England Sports Ventures will make back its initial investment. And besides, last time anyone checked, “béisbol” is pretty popular too.
The bottom line is that offering Jeter any kind of competitive salary would be a mistake, simply on the grounds that Boston might actually get Jeter. And Shaughnessy’s final argument, that Jeter would make Red Sox games less boring, is as flawed as the rest of his points. Jeter is arguably one of the most professional, straightforward, undramatic, boring baseball players in history. How would signing him make the Red Sox more exciting? If you’re going to make an argument, Dan, make it right. Otherwise, don’t waste our time.