I find all this Derek Jeter versus Yankee management haggling over money disturbing.
The reason is that the Yankees are the richest franchise in baseball and the most successful in the history of baseball and sports.
But for some reason Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have decided to play a little hardball with the team captain and the owner of five World Series rings.
Doesn’t that seem odd when you look at some of the recent history of this ballclub?
It was some years ago that this franchise offered Carl Pavano a four-year deal worth just a nickel below $40 million. The Return on Investment (ROI) there was just a shade below Yankee expectations. “Carla,” as Yankee fans called him, spent more time in a hot tub than Hugh Hefner and he needed a GPS device to find the Yankee Stadium mound.
Seems that the Cashman was the one who went looking for a Japanese lefty named Kei Igawa and signed him for about $50 million if you include the posting fee. Yankee fans remember him well. He marked his four seasons in pinstripes spending more time in Scranton than just about any salesman at Dunder-Mifflin.
His appearances in the Bronx were just about as funny if they were not so sad. His plate offerings spent more time high and outside than Charlie Sheen.
So when the Yankees low-ball a good guy like Andy Pettitte as they did two years ago and they make it so obvious that they want Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon off their payroll as they did last season, I begin to wonder.
Are the Yankees all about overpaying jerks and underpaying the “good soldiers?”
The Cashman tenure is littered with expensive free-agent mistakes and lavish contracts extended to stiffs who did not produce much.
Yet, the Yankees seem to have Jeter in a vise.
I would not want to be Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, right about now. The Yankees have closed off just about all avenues to Jeter’s former 10-year, $189 million deal being matched. They denied the shortstop arbitration, which Jeter could have leveraged into a one-year, $20 million contract.
They also tossed out a three-year, $45 million offer and basically invited Jeter to entertain offers from other clubs. If you were a GM of any of the other 29 major-league teams would you seriously offer Jeter a deal above that knowing it could be used to up the Yankees’ ante?
Therein, lies the rub.
The Yankees are betting that no club will offer Jeter anything more than three years and they are sure not many can afford the $20 million Jeter would like per season. This is old-fashioned country hardball negotiations and the Yankees seem to be sitting in the proverbial catbird seat.
Mariano Rivera is also part of this equation. Hence, the one-year offer he is getting when he is looking for two.
I get it. The fewer dollars spent on Jeter and Rivera the more dollars can lavished onto to ace left-hander Cliff Lee. I assume this is the real reason fiscal sanity has hit the Yankee top brass so suddenly.
But, this is a dangerous game. There could be something in the works that will throw a huge monkey wrench in the Yankees’ plan. This holds true especially for Rivera, who any team could claim with a reasonable two-year deal offer.
You want to begin the 2011 season with Joba Chamberlain as your closer?
With Rivera gone the Yankees could sign Cliff Lee to a $250 million deal and still lose about a half-dozen of his starts to a shaky bullpen. The same holds true for CC and the rest of the rotation. Sometimes you do not know what you are losing until you have lost it.
Jeter may be coming off his worst offensive season. But many wrote him off after a lackluster 2008 season. He came close to winning a Most Valuable Player in 2009. Do you really want to risk letting him having a bounceback season with the Detroit Tigers?
That is the kind of dangerous game the Yankee brass is playing with the face of the franchise.
I think of a season with Eduardo Nunez at shortstop. In some ways I think Nunez could be the Yankees’ shortstop for the next dozen years. He can hit, run and he is learning to field more consistently. Perhaps he is the future.
But when your clubhouse erodes into a powder keg of hurt egos and dissatisfied superstars grumbling to the media behind manager Joe Girardi’s back, I wonder what the Yankees will think of the $3.9 million dollars per season they tried to save signing Jeter.
Sometimes players earn respect for what they do for the team beyond statistics. One player in Baltimore comes to mind: Cal Ripken.
Look up Cal’s stats for the final five years of his career and you will wonder why he even got a contract offer at all from the Orioles. But ask the Orioles now if they could use another player like Ripken. Have they been the same since he retired?
That is what I see in Jeter. The same professionalism. The same quiet dignity. The desire to give it all for the team and leave it all out there on the field. The playing of the game the right way and playing each game as if it was the last.
Putting a price tag on that is hard. But it sure seems silly to throw it away to save a measly $3.9 million doesn’t it?