Yankee Disrespect or Jeter Greed?

published December 2, 2010

It’s the oldest negotiating mistake there is.

You know where the final agreement ought to be. You have leverage, but you don’t want to use it.  You’re certain that you’re offering more than anyone else would be willing to spend, maybe by a lot.  You want to keep things amicable and civilized.

So why drag things out?  You begin with that reasonable – no, generous – figure, so everyone can get the deal done and move on to other matters.

And then they say no.

And you’re angry, because you’ve already negotiated yourself upwards from where you really want to be.

Brian Cashman probably should have known that Derek Jeter wouldn’t share the clear-eyed, objective view of his talents and worth that the general manager, the owners, and a thousand sabermetricians have had for a while.

Still, he might not have expected Jeter’s agent Casey Close to compare his client to Babe Ruth, or to expect a raise from the 10-year, $189 million contract Jeter has just completed.

A raise?  Really?  That’s so 2006.

It doesn’t bolster Jeter’s case that he had the worst year of his career in 2010.  But the contract value isn’t going to be based on any single season.

So let’s examine his last three years, 2008-2010, which include his remarkable 2009 bounce-back season.  Jeter had an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .783, created 291 runs (using Bill James’s Runs Created formula as calculated on baseball-reference.com), and had a Wins Above Replacement value (which includes defense) of 10.5 over the three seasons (minimum 350 games).

These figures ranked eighth (OPS), second (RC), and fourth (WAR) in the period.  Among shortstops.

Considering all players, Jeter ranked 89th in OPS, 31st in Runs Created, and 40th in Wins Above Replacement (63rd if we include pitchers).

Over the ten years of his expiring contract, his salary ranked as follows in the American League:  6th, 4th, 4th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd.

At no time during those ten years did his performance – as measured in Wins Above Replacement – rank higher than his salary.  In the last six years, when his salary ranked no lower than third among all AL players, his WAR ranked 5th, 5th, 17th, 42nd, 5th, and 79th – not including pitchers.

It is not disrespecting Derek Jeter to suggest that he has been overpaid for his performance.

But Jeter’s value, we hear, is incalculable when it comes to winning; he is a champion, the true heir of the Yankee tradition.

During the last ten years, the Yankees have won one World Series.

But what about the other Yankee tradition, of grossly overpaying the Kei Igawas, A.J. Burnetts, and Hideki Irabus of the world?  What about the $27.5 million per year Alex Rodriguez will be pocketing under his ten-year extension?

The Yankees have generally not overpaid their aging and declining players, preferring to move on with the bright and shiny new players they can overpay on the open market.  A-Rod’s contract was negotiated after a three-year stretch in which he averaged forty-six home runs, 130 RBIs, and a 1.005 OPS.  He was 31; Jeter will turn 37 next June.

At the same age, Paul O’Neill got a one-year deal from the Yankees, while Bernie Williams got a token offer; David Wells was traded at age 34, and walked as a free agent at 40; Tino Martinez left as a free agent at 34, returned at a steep discount for one last year at 37.  Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are no longer Yankees. (The case of Roger Clemens will be noted and ignored; his aging pattern was, we can agree, a bit unusual, and his real cost to the team in his final year reflects a pro rata discount since he skipped the first third of the season.)

Are the Yankees mistreating one of their “core four” by daring to ask him to take a pay cut?

Ask Andy Pettitte, another Yankee who went elsewhere in his thirties.  He earned $16 million in each of his first two years back in New York, then signed an incentive-laden deal for his age 37 season that guaranteed him $5.5 million (he earned an additional $5 million by being on the active roster for 180 days and pitching 194 innings).  His new 2010 contract paid $11.5 million, still well below his salary of two years earlier.

Should Jeter be paid for his value as a Yankee icon?  At $15 million a year for three years, he will be lavishly paid for being an icon.  His on-field value is far below this figure.  Is he likely to outperform Juan Uribe, the infielder just signed by the Dodgers for three years at $7 million per?  Or Marco Scutaro, in his second year at $5 million each?  (Scutaro was one of the three shortstops with a higher WAR than Jeter over the last three seasons.)  Never mind comparing him to the two most productive shortstops over the last three years, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki.  If Jeter accepts the Yankees’ “baffling” offer (to use his agent’s word), he’ll make more money in the next three seasons than Ramirez, and will be only slightly below the average value on Tulowitzki’s new contract – $15.7 million per year through 2010 – that takes him up through his age 36 season.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to get all you can whenever you can.  The negotiations might be messy, but they’ll be forgotten once the deal is done.  The contract the Yankees have put on the table is not just a good offer, it’s a generous one that reflects all he means to the franchise.  The right response for the captain it is to smile, say thank you, and sign it.

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