Monday, August 19, 2013
Derek Jeter limping into leverage
By Buster Olney
He might seem like more of a symbol than a player, but Jeter's presence is valuable in New York.
BOSTON -- The last time Derek Jeter’s contract expired, in the fall of 2010, the Yankees held the negotiating hammer.
Jeter had turned 36 just months before and was coming off a middling type of season relative to his career performance, with his on-base average dropping from .406 in 2009 to .340 in 2010. So when Jeter looked for a significant deal, the response from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was, in essence: Go ahead and try to find a better offer than what we’re willing to pay you, because it doesn’t exist.
Jeter wound up making a deal for far less than his side had aimed for, although nobody is suggesting the shortstop will starve based on his recent wages: $14.7 million in 2011, $16 million in 2012 and $17 million this year.
Now Jeter holds a player option for 2014 that would be for $9.5 million -- or he can take a $3 million buyout and blow up that option year. It might make sense for him to do this, because this time around, Jeter appears to hold significant leverage.
That might sound odd, given that Jeter has only 21 plate appearances in this injury-plagued season, and next summer, he turns 40 years old. He has stated flatly in the past that he has no thought of leaving the Yankees, and in any event, a middle infielder at his age wouldn’t draw a high volume of interest in the free-agent market.
But think about what will be happening with the Yankees in October and November:
• They may well be coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons.
• Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time, will have just retired.
• Andy Pettitte, the most prolific pitcher in their history and a part of five championship teams, may join him in retirement.
• Robinson Cano’s future may be uncertain. He’s the Yankees’ best player, they don’t yet have a deal, and the prospect of him walking away may be filling the papers.
• Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman, the manager and general manager, will have contracts expiring at the end of October.
• And, of course, the A-Rod stuff will be hovering over the team unless a suspension settlement is reached before his arbitration hearing -- and as Rodriguez suggested after Saturday’s game, the stories might get worse and worse.
In the middle of all that, one of the most popular players in the history of the franchise will have the opportunity to reopen his contract talks.
Jeter has not indicated what he intends to do, one way or another, or how much longer he wants to play. Maybe 2014 will be his last year; maybe not. He may well accept the option. Maybe he’s more open to the idea of mixing in some playing time at first base and DH, as well as shortstop. Jeter led the majors in hits in 2012, and in his brief periods of playing time this year -- in spring training, when he was in the big leagues -- he looked like he continues to swing a potent bat.
If he asked the Yankees for a multiyear deal this fall, he would do so at a time when the franchise would be under enormous scrutiny and tremendous pressure during a continued transition period. Jeter will be in position to squeeze the Yankees if he chooses to do it, as they squeezed him in the last negotiation.
In the fall of 2007, the Steinbrenner sons and daughters were under great pressure after the ugly departure of manager Joe Torre, and it was in that time that they overpaid Rodriguez with his 10-year, $275 million deal, and gave Jorge Posada a four-year deal and Mariano Rivera a record-setting three-year contract. I’ve always told friends that I thought A-Rod, Posada and Rivera owed Torre dinner for life for the timing of his exit.
In the same way, Jeter could benefit from the storms that will circle over the Yankees in the fall.
I wrote earlier this season about a pitcher who intentionally drilled an alleged PED user, and how the other players were OK with it when he returned to the dugout and explained. Cheaters have never been treated in this way by their brethren as they are now, a turning point in the whole PEDs conversation.
But I agree with what CC Sabathia said after the game: If Ryan Dempster’s intent was to hit Rodriguez, then who is Dempster to render justice? Dempster’s union voted on the rules for the appeals process, and Rodriguez is going through that now.
Dempster delivered his message when he threw his first pitch behind Rodriguez, and at that moment, it was a perfect message. He didn’t hurt Rodriguez, but he made clear his displeasure. Drilling him, as a prone target completely defenseless against a 90 mph fastball, was a step too far.
And it definitely shot some adrenaline into the Yankees, as many players mentioned in their clubhouse after the game, who came back to win.
When A-Rod homered, he clapped, he shouted, he paused at home plate to give a Big Papi point, and he stared up at the stands. Look, say what you want about Rodriguez, but he clearly embraces the role of villain and is OK with it.
• On the day Ryan Braun won his appeal in February 2012, I heard -- off the record at that time -- about how he reached out to other players and told them that Dino Laurenzi Jr. was a Cubs fan and an anti-Semite. But when Braun agreed to a plea bargain, acknowledging his past PED use, some angry folks agreed to be sources for the information to be published.
“If I get a chance to see Braun, I’ve got a question for him right to his face, you know?” Gibson said Sunday before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Is he about rehearsed (enough) by now, you think? About ready to come out? He’s probably practicing at the theater school somewhere. Just you look at how things like that can influence people’s opportunities and an opportunity to do something like that.”
• That Miguel Cabrera guy is pretty good. From ESPN Stats & Information:
On the first pitch he saw Sunday, Cabrera sent Bruce Chen’s 85 mph fastball 403 feet into the left-field seats for his 40th home run of the season in the Detroit Tigers’ 6-3 win against the Kansas City Royals.
Cabrera also finished with three RBIs on the day, giving him 120 for the season. He became the third player in Tigers history to post consecutive seasons of at least 40 home runs and 120 RBIs, joining Hank Greenberg (1937-38) and Cecil Fielder (1990-91). Cabrera’s success on first pitches this season has been explored before, and it remained that way Sunday.
His swing rate on first pitches has jumped from 34.3 percent last year to 43.0 percent this year. His batting average on them has jumped from .436 to .487, and he has 13 HRs on first pitches this year compared to 10 in 2012. His OPS on first pitches is an absurd 1.500.
The Tigers are now at .700 since the All-Star break, best in the American League.