Time for Jeter to suck it up

BY Bob Klapisch • November 29, 2010

Derek Jeter is almost a month into his new life as a free agent, which means he has had plenty of time to face reality: The Yankees will never — ever — pay him $23 million a year. If Jeter wants to return to the Bronx in 2011, he’s going to have to rein in his ego (no small task) and accept a pay cut.

Can he?

Better question: Does he have any choice?

“Where else is (Jeter) going to go?” is what one industry official said the other day. “The only way the Yankees would even consider budging is if some other team gets involved. And I don’t see that happening.”

Without leverage, Jeter has to make his peace with a $15 million annual salary. The Yankees might fatten that final figure to, maybe, $16 million per for three years, but that’s just a hunch. Internally, they’ve adopted a hard line and are telling each other there’ll be no bending, not this time.

And guess what, the Yankees are right — absolutely and unconditionally. The Yankees’ current offer is more than fair and in line for a singles hitter who turns 37 this season.

Of course, Jeter doesn’t see it that way, which is why the gulf between him and the Yankees remains so wide. He considers himself a generational superstar, the Michael Jordan of baseball, a first-round Hall of Famer (which he is), an integral part of five championship seasons, as clean as Tiger Woods is sleazy.

To which the Yankees say, all true — which is precisely why Jeter has been paid $205 million in the past decade. He’s the highest-earning shortstop in baseball history, so it’s hard to feel sorry for him now. The onus is on Jeter, not the Yankees, to calculate his true market value in 2011, to calibrate exactly where he is in his career.

As Tony Soprano used to say, it’s just business, not personal. Jeter needs to get over himself, he needs to give up the delusion he’s a $23 million-a-year player. The captain has always prided himself on being self-aware, on his street smarts, knowing exactly how he’s perceived in the field, in his off-the-field activities and certainly in his dealings with the media.

Jeter needs to summon that internal radar right now, before his loyal fan base realizes his salary demands aren’t just misguided, they’re nonsensical. Clearly, Jeter and his agent, Casey Close, have misread the Yankees’ resolve to treat Jeter as a ballplayer, not an icon, and the longer the pair veers off-course, the more Jeter will alienate himself from his public.

Already there are hints Jeter is losing the public-relations war. In an admittedly unscientific poll, about 75 percent of New York Post readers who responded to a question about the negotiations consider the Yankees’ $15 million offer “fair.” That’s bad news for Jeter, who was counting on rank-and-file Yankees fans to stand up for him.

Instead, Jeter’s case is being undermined by cold, hard numbers that suggest he’s in decline: Last year he ranked 115th among qualifiers in OPS (.710). As the Post’s Joel Sherman pointed out, only two shortstops 37 or older have ever produced qualifying seasons with better than even a .750 OPS — Honus Wagner in 1912 and Luke Appling in 1949. In other words, history says Jeter’s decline is more than a one-year blip, it’s a predictable trend for a player entering the final stage of his career.

Think of it: Jeter had his worst year in almost every offensive category in 2010. No player in the big leagues made more outs. On the flip side of his Gold Glove award was a No. 16 ranking in total chances among qualified major league shortstops. The 553 were the fewest in any full season in his career.

Of course, this isn’t to say the Yankees have been entirely graceful in their dealings with Jeter. General manager Brian Cashman could’ve found a more tactful way to tell Jeter to test the market last week. No matter how ugly the tone has become, the two sides will eventually come to terms, and everyone will be forced to dress their wounds.


But Jeter’s camp failed to predict the degree to which the Yankees would hit back once Casey Close told the Daily News' Mike Lupica he found the Bombers' negotiating tactics "baffling." The club's hierarchy said that if the dialogue were to continue in the newspapers, Jeter would be the one dealing from the weak hand. In the Yankees' minds, Close -- meaning, Jeter -- had crossed the line by not keeping his mouth shut, and the hostility-quotient has been ratcheted up ever since."

So now the Yankees are hearing the predictable bleating from Jeter’s apologists, the ones who say he “deserves” a raise from last year’s $21.5 million because he’s the face of the organization. If nothing else, Jeter should be fussed over the same way A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia were during their respective free-agency campaigns.

Well, those players were being courted by others teams, both coming off terrific seasons, as well. Jeter doesn’t have either luxury. That’s just bad timing and a bit of bad luck. And anyone who considers Jeter the face of the organization is living in his pre-2004 days. Today, the Yankees are as much about Sabathia and Robby Cano (and, yes, A-Rod, too) as they are about Jeter.

Will the Yankees’ “brand” suffer from this corporate bloodletting? Hardly. The Bombers survived after pushing Bernie Williams out the door. Hey, they even made it past Babe Ruth’s acrimonious exit in 1935.

Jeter should keep all this in mind as his crusade for more money nears its second month. He needs to reconsider what $15 million really represents — not an insult, but a peace offering. Time for the captain not just to wake up, but to grow up.

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