Shortstop Stand-off

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Athlon's Patrick Snow examines the Jeter-Yankees contract talks.

The Yankees-Derek Jeter negotiation should be pretty simple, but it could potentially turn into one of the offseason’s best stories if either side turns stubborn. It has been widely reported that New York general manger Brian Cashman (has there ever been a more appropriately-named GM) will offer the 37-year old shortstop a contract in the neighborhood of three years for a total of $45 million, an overpayment baseball-wise at this point in Jeter’s career. We all know New York can afford to overpay anyone, and the career-Yankee Jeter means a lot to the franchise’s fans. While his skills are fading, Jeter is still as popular as ever in the Bronx and has earned the right in many observers’ eyes to be overcompensated (more than $22 million last season for a .270 hitter with little power). Logic says he would gladly accept New York’s bloated offer instead of a one or two-year deal from another club for $8-12 million per season, right?

That’s where this standoff could get interesting. In the end, I don’t think the veteran shortstop will try to hold the Yankees hostage. Jeter’s agent, knowing how much revenue New York rakes in each season, will probably push for a little extra money because that’s his job. However, there have been some suggestions that Jeter will seek more than $20 million per season and wants that sum for three or even four years. We’ll see if an unrealistic counteroffer actually happens, but you never know what the combination of player ego and a hungry sports agent can produce.

The obvious multi-million dollar question: Will the Yankees play hardball with a fan favorite like Jeter? Most close followers of baseball know that his value would be significantly less to any other ballclub, but they also understand why New York would offer a generous deal for three seasons at $15 million per year. But what if Jeter wants more—would the club actually tell him ‘no one is going to pay you close to what we’re offering’ and let him negotiate elsewhere? The Yankees would probably be fine without him, but they do not want to do anything to upset their massive fan base (especially at the prices they are charging).

It seems unfathomable to most Yankees’ fans that #2 would not be wearing pinstripes for his entire career. However, Cashman may want to exercise some fiscal sense and call any bluff out of the Jeter camp. It’s actually fairly easy to see a scenario where New York would be better in 2011 with a new captain. Imagine how scary the Yankees would be if they did the following: 1) signed starting pitcher Cliff Lee, 2) used the Jeter 'overpayment money' to instead sign leftfielder Carl Crawford, and 3) traded a couple of minor leaguers for a shortstop like Stephen Drew or Jose Reyes if Triple-A prospect Eduardo Nunez is not ready. I guarantee the other AL East clubs do not want to face that lineup next season.

Most of us assumed the Jeter deal (much like Mariano Rivera’s) would just be a formality this winter, but he may ask for over-the-top money. When all is said and done, I believe the chances of the Yankees having a new shortstop in 2011 to be very slim. While he may have his agent push a little, Jeter will most likely realize his lack of leverage and return to the Bronx for more than quality money. But if his agent decides to keep pushing for more, the Yankees’ brass will have a compelling stance to take. Would they really pay more than $20 million a season for three or four years for the worst player in their infield? That would be the type of contract that would send baseball economics into further chaos. Please Brian Cashman, for the sake of the game, call any bluff.

-by Patrick Snow

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