Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees are at loggerheads over what type of contract he should receive to continue his career with the club. The Yankees have offered Jeter a three year contract worth $15 million a year. Jeter is said to want much more than that, both in terms of annual dollars as well as length of contract; it is suggested that he is looking for something in the $22 million a year for six years range.
This is not about negotiating for every last dollar; there seems to be a massive divide between what the player wants and what the team wants to pay him.
While it will almost certainly not be the most impactful free agent signing in history, the Jeter negotiation is among the most interesting ever.
Jeter is a slam dunk Hall of Fame baseball player. He has been the most famous face of the most famous franchise through an era that has been among the most successful in its history. An undeniable part of the Jeter package has been the grace and respect he has shown the game by his actions both on and off the field. Even under an incredible microscope in New York City, Jeter has had no memorable missteps and has been a role model for really two generations of baseball fans in the tri-state area in particular and many across the country.
At 36 years old now, however, Jeter very well might be slipping with age. He is still a productive and reliable shortstop, though he had by far his worst season ever last year, hitting .270 with ten home runs and with, by most all accounts, limited range in the field.
Throughout his career, Derek Jeter has always been a bit of a living Rorschach test.
Even at his peak, when Jeter was considered routinely one of the top five to ten players in baseball, his game wasn’t about statistics. Jeter was always more about consistency, reliability, and an uncanny ability to rise to the level required by the moment. And this fact complicates this negotiation exponentially.
Jeter has always said and done the right thing when it comes to personal statistics. He always seemed to be much more focused on winning than his individual production, and both his actions and words through the years contributed to that perception. Cynics would suggest that while Jeter was a very good player, he did not have the ability to compete statistically with the top offensive producers in the game.
But now, at an advancing age, Jeter tries to negotiate with the Yankees who are taking the view that, really, this is all about numbers and offensive production. They point out, rightly, that the contract they have offered him already is at least a little bit above what Jeter could command on the market. General Manager Brian Cashman said this week that Jeter should shop around for other offers and see if there is one he likes better. While taking on one of the most popular and classiest Yankees ever in public is a highly questionable tactic (okay, it’s stupid), Cashman’s point is valid.
Jeter probably is worth more to the Yankees organization than the three years and $45 million would suggest. Not because of his play on the field, but because of his brand. If Derek Jeter were to leave the Yankees, the fan backlash would be significant. While the Yankees survived the departures of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, and would also survive the departure of Jeter, there is no question that the team would take a hit in ratings and popularity, at least in the short term, across some segments of its fan base.
But the only way Jeter can leave the Yankees is to retire, it would seem. We are now moving into December and spring training, unbelievably, is a mere ten weeks away. There has not been so much as a rumor of another team making an offer to Jeter that would come close to what the Yankees offered. Any other team (except perhaps the Mets) will pay Jeter almost exclusively on expected production on the field. And any other offer would need to be significantly higher than what the Yankees offered for it to be worth it to Jeter to leave.
Simply put, Derek Jeter has no leverage.
Generally, with no leverage, one would expect the player to simply sign the offer on the table, perhaps with some minor tweaks. But given that it’s now common knowledge that Jeter wanted more, far more, than what the Yankees offered, it would seem embarrassing, humiliating even, for him to sign what’s there after Cashman publicly challenged him to do better with what seemed to be a ‘take it or leave it’ type of approach. And yet what choice does he really have?
As somebody who has been very careful through the years to protect his public image and who has always chosen his words carefully, Jeter needs to be careful here. The common fan is not going to empathize with an athlete, even the beloved Jeter, acting annoyed or frustrated over the chance to earn $45 million across three years to play baseball; in fact, this contract would bring Jeter’s total compensation from the Yankees to about $250 million (that’s right, a quarter of a billion dollars) over his career.
If I was advising Derek Jeter, I’d tell him first that he “is where he is”…an overused statement today, perhaps, but very true. Once he comes to terms with that reality, there is an opportunity here for Derek Jeter to actually add to his stature with the fans and make his legacy even greater. Don’t play semantics and don’t talk about ‘respect’. Instead, I would advise Derek Jeter to call a press conference and read the following statement, word for word.
“Hello. Thanks to everybody for being here today. I’ll get right to the point. It’s no secret that the Yankees and I, through this free agent process, had a very wide gap between what I wanted to be paid and what they offered me. It’s also no secret that I have been very fortunate to play Major League Baseball for a living, and in particular to play for the Yankees in front of the greatest fans in the world. I have made more money than anybody should to play a sport I love and that millions would play for free. I am very lucky to never have to earn another dollar again and never have to worry about anything financially.
I know the kind of money we discuss is unfathomable to the fans. I just ask that they remember that I am a competitor first and foremost. And that competitive streak in me extends beyond the playing field and into the business world. Make no mistake, Major League Baseball, as with all professional sports, is a business. The Yankees are a business and we, as players, are part of that business.
I entered this free agent process wanting a large contract that would in all likelihood be my last. I do not really want to go through this process again in a few years. I know that many assume that I am winding down my playing career, but I intend to keep playing beyond the three years that the Yankees have offered me and wanted a contract to reflect that fact. The Yankees see things differently. While they certainly have the right to do so, I intend to prove them wrong…which I’m sure they’d like to see me do.
I will admit my pride was a bit hurt about the Yankees offer. But I reminded myself that this is a business and it’s not a personal slight. The Yankees did still offer me the opportunity to be the highest paid shortstop in the game, after all.
So, I told the Yankees today that I accept their offer. I also told them that I will prove them wrong…and that I’m sure they want me to.
In the final analysis, the Yankees and I disagreed about what I should be paid. All good relationships have disagreements from time to time. That doesn’t mean they should end. I could have tried to get more money elsewhere. I don’t know if I could have or couldn’t have, but it was very difficult to envision wearing any other uniform besides the pinstripes.
Disappointed? Yes. Disillusioned? No. I remind myself each and every day how lucky I am to do this for a living. I look forward to going to spring training in a couple of months and getting back to the World Series. The only thing I ask of the fans is to continue supporting us. Call us out when we let you down, and cheer as loudly as ever when we produce for you.
With that I thank the fans, my teammates, Yankees management, the Steinbrenners, and yes, even the media, for making everything possible. We may disagree on this issue, but the respect and goodwill we’ve all built will not only continue, but grow through the years. Thank you.”
And with that, Derek Jeter will get himself out of the corner he is in with his contract status. And, let’s face it, see his endorsements grow even bigger.
Bill Madden and Anthony McCarron, “Derek Jeter’s camp lowers demands in Yankee talks to $22 million-$24 million per year: source”, nydailynews.com