MLB

Making Jeter wait a bad move for Yankees

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Bob Klapisch

Bob Klapisch covers baseball for The Record in New Jersey and worked at the New York Post and New York Daily News. The author of five books, he was recently voted a top-five columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

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For some crazy, counter-intuitive reason, the Yankees are going to make Derek Jeter wait for the contract extension we all see coming. He knows he's going to be in Pinstripes in 2011 and beyond, and so does the club. One senior executive said on Wednesday, "there's no chance" Jeter will ever be allowed to test free agency when his current deal expires after 2010. Yet, the Yankees are sticking to the organization's unbreakable rule — no early deals or extensions for anyone, even for Jeter.
To this we say: think again. Running out the clock on their most cherished player is bad business, not to mention bad karma. And it's not like the Yankees are going to save themselves any money by waiting. Jeter, who earned $20 million in 2009, is scheduled to pull down $21 million in 2010. He's never going to earn Alex Rodriguez' $33 million per, but he's not about to take a pay cut, either just because his next contract will push him past his 40th birthday. So we've come up with a reasonable compromise, effective immediately: Cancel the 2010 pay-out and give Jeter four more years for $100 million — exactly $25 million per. That'll give him a respectable, but not irresponsible raise. And it keeps him under the A-Rod threshold, where it should be. Let's face it, Jeter is the more likable player, but Rodriguez is the better one and deserves to be paid at the highest scale. Jeter wouldn't disagree. In fact, everything Jeter has done complies with the company's standards: positive force in the clubhouse, socially mature, he even partied responsibly when the clubhouse turned to Animal House after the World Series. Of course, good behavior alone isn't a reason to write a $100 million check, but it speaks to Jeter's greater commitment to his career. He's managing to defy the laws of nature, having just won the Gold Glove at age 35, committing the fewest errors of his career (eight) and tying his career best in fielding percentage (.986). Then there's the offense. Jeter batted .407 in the World Series, raising his career postseason average to .313. At an age when he's supposed to be declining, Jeter fattened his regular season average by 34 points from 2008, while posting a 100-point spike in OPS. He even stole 30 bases for only the fourth time in his career.
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Of course, the actuaries will tell you the reason to wait on a contract has nothing to do with Jeter's spiritual value to the Yankees. It has everything to do with his age. He'll play at 37 in 2011, and no team in the last 50 years has ever won a championship with a shortstop that old. The club is not blind to age-related issues. The potential for decay is the very reason the Yankees don't want to invest heavily in Johnny Damon, who's only eight months older than Jeter. They worry that Damon, already a defensive liability, will be increasingly susceptible to major leg injuries by 2011 or 2012. Yet, that same concern isn't directed toward Jeter. "Obviously, it's a different standard for Derek," is what the club's senior official said. So why not create a different system to compensate him? Jeter is serious about his legacy and his longevity, having told David Letterman last week, "If you stay in shape you can keep playing for a long, long time." That motivation spurred Jeter to hire a fitness trainer last winter, with the specific goal of improving his range to his left. Jason Riley, director of performance of the Athletes Compound at Tampa's Saddlebrook Resort, told the Bergen Record's Ian O'Connor, "I've been in the industry for 15 years and I've never come across anyone like Derek. His work ethic is unbelievable." Riley's endorsement counts for something, considering his clients include Ryan Howard, Ryan Zimmerman and Maria Sharapova. But the fitness guru understood his mission from the outset: "We discussed how we can keep (Jeter) in the game as long as he wants to play," said Riley. "Derek said it may not be eight to 10 years at shortstop, but that he wanted to play that long." The Yankees should acknowledge Jeter's unique circumstances. If nothing else, giving him an extended contract sooner than later will insulate everyone from the inevitable tidal wave of questions and headlines next summer. The Steinbrenner family made Mariano Rivera wait until free agency for his new deal last winter, and all it did was (temporarily) offend the game's greatest closer. There's no reason to put Jeter on hold, too. Here are some other suggestions for the Yankees' offseason game plan: Offer Damon arbitration: Chances are he'll accept it, no matter what his agent, Scott Boras, says about hitting the jackpot on a three- or four-year deal. Damon wants to remain in Pinstripes so badly, he'd likely sign a one-year contract, foregoing Boras' practice of waiting until February or even March to get signed. Say goodbye to Hideki Matsui: His MVP performance in the World Series has left nothing but good will in his wake, but remember, Brian Cashman is the same executive who let Bernie Williams, one of the three most popular Yankees of the last 25 years, walk after 2006 without a formal goodbye. Nothing personal, strictly business. Matsui's age, bad knees and inability to play the field leaves him without a spot on the '10 roster. His only hope would be to agree to a one-year deal at vastly under Damon's asking price. Not likely. Put Joba Chamberlain, not Phil Hughes, on the block: The Yankees would love to get their hands on Roy Halladay, who's available. So is Curtis Granderson, according to the New York Post. In either case, a trade would be painful for the Yankees. They're going to have to surrender one of their two young right-handers in a package of prospects. Dealing Chamberlain now is the pro-active decision. He re-discovered his fastball in the postseason and has subsequently re-established some value among other GMs. But Chamberlain's WHIP has doubled since 2007 and that should be a red flag for the Yankees. It's true, the organization micro-managed him out of a productive season, but his blow-away factor is nevertheless significantly diminished.
Tagged: Derek Jeter, Ryan Zimmerman, Blue Jays, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Tigers, Roy Halladay, Nationals, Yankees, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Joba Chamberlain, Phillies, Ryan Howard, Phil Hughes

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