Understanding Jeter

The other argument against Jeter receiving that much money is his “declining performance”. Well, that’s true. He did play worse in 2010 than 2009, but I don’t think anyone expected him to repeat his 7.1 fWAR season. Almost anything is a “declining performance” from that. But Jeter recorded only 2.5 fWAR this past season, and it was his lowest ever, including his rookie season. However, if you look a little deeper, there are reasons to believe Jeter will be better next season with the most obvious being his .307 BABiP, which is almost 50 points below his career norm. In other words, he was highly unfortunate in a season that he couldn’t really afford to have one. 2007 was pretty close to an “average” season for Jeter, and he racked up 3.5 fWAR that season. That also included a nasty -17.9 UZR rating that he hasn’t neared in the past three seasons, and you could make the argument that even a -8 rating would leave him with 4.5 fWAR, which sounds more accurate. At $4.5 million a win, that’s $20.25 million of production, which makes a $23 million asking price less ridiculous. Sure, you can make the argument (which may even be a better one) that he hasn’t done that in 3 of the past 4 seasons and aging may restrict his ability or the degree to which he rebounds, but the same sabermetric principles that scream for Jeter to be tarred and feathered also support a mighty bounce-back.

The number of years also becomes a point of contention because of Jeter’s age. He will be 37 for most of next season, and a six-year contract will make him 42 during that last season, which is ancient in player years. But it’s not unheard of, and if you want to look for exceptions, Hall of Famers who keep themselves in shape are a good place to start. Additionally, Jeter may accept 4 years, which would make him 40 in that last season, and that’s not as much of a stretch (though not one anyone wants to bet on). He’s been extremely durable his entire career with only one season significantly below 150 games played. He may be genetically gifted in this area, and he probably is a better bet than most to last to that age (of course, that still doesn’t make it a good idea, but Jeter can make that argument).

Then there’s the “franchise bonus” for Jeter being Jeter. The argument has been made that it would hurt the Yankee brand by letting Jeter walk, and while it won’t irreparably harm the Yankee brand, it will tarnish it a smidge, though the actual degree is uncertain. It will create some ill will, and the Yankees will sell fewer jerseys as people won’t buy so many Jeter ones and only a big trade would bring someone who would create excitement at that position. I’ll agree that the impact on the Yankee brand won’t be gigantic, but it is non-negligible for the short-term. (My problem here is not that Jeter or anyone else wants to give Jeter more money to Jeter for him being him. Players aren’t equal, and teams value certain players for things like longevity and loyalty. I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is the ambiguity of it. How much does the “franchise bonus” cost? $3 million? $10 million? Intangibles can’t be quantified, but salaries can. And I want to know how much I’m paying for Jeter’s performance and for his “Jeterness”.)

There’s also a somewhat societal issue in these negotiations. When you or I go out for jobs, we’ll get an opening salary, and year-after-year, we expect to receive a pay raise. Call it seniority or inflation, but we get one anyway. Now, this happens in most jobs, and as long as you continue to do your job and there are no recessions that affect your job, you expect to continue to make more money than you did the previous year. Essentially, Jeter is asking for this. All players want this. Sure, a lot of them eventually come to terms with it, and they accept less money. But it’s usually after no one wants them or they have a marked decline in performance that coincides with a younger player outperforming them. It’s easier to accept then. But this isn’t Jeter’s scenario. The most famous baseball organization in the world wants him. He just won a Gold Glove as the best defensive shortstop (let’s leave the actual merits of that for another discussion). And he was the 11th best shortstop (by FanGraphs measure) in the majors, and we all expect somewhat of a bounce-back (4.5 fWAR would put him 3rd and 4 would put him 5th). None of that exactly screams, “You suck and are declining to the point that you need a major pay cut”.

And of course, we have the deadly sin of pride. We love athletes for their competitiveness and for their desire to be the best, but at some arbitrary point, we draw a line where their competitiveness turns into “greed”, “showboating”, or “hot-headedness”. We all have different thresholds for that, but our encouragement of such things is what drives athletes. Jeter likes to compete, likes to win, likes to perform for the fans, and likes to be well-paid for his efforts, and this negotiation is no different. He wants to win and make a lot of money. And he doesn’t want to admit he’s getting older. He’s only 36 for goodness sakes, and he’s got at least 40 more years of life ahead of him. Luckily, this is also about the time when “mid-life crises” hit and people have to come to terms with their age. Everything is no longer in front of you (I am not saying Jeter is having one of these. Personally, I don’t think people really have mind-scaring mid-life crises, but I do think this is about the time when you start thinking about these things, which aren’t the easiest things to grapple with). So, you have a highly-competitive athlete who is reaching middle-age, and there are still plenty of people out there who actually think he should be paid tens of millions. Sounds like a good combination.

I realize that the immediate reaction to Jeter’s demand is nothing short of incredulity. Some people could be willing to argue for 4/80, but 6/150 or 6/125 seems entirely ridiculous. And as an ending point, I’d agree. But that’s not what this is. It’s an opening salvo, and we still have 2 ½ months left to work it out. They’ll come down in asking price, and when it’s all done, we’ll marvel at Close and Jeter for asking for the world and getting the Yankees to offer 4/68 when they really didn’t have to. Or we’ll marvel at how humble Jeter became when he accepted the 3/48 deal—“He finally came to his senses, and not many athletes do that, right?” In a way, Jeter can’t lose. Whichever way this ends, it can be spun to make Jeter look like a Warren Buffett or a St. Paul, but before that rigmarole, Jeter has business to attend to. And he’s going to get his, and I have no problem with that. It is the American Way, after all.

23 thoughts on “Understanding Jeter

  1. I think when highlighting Jeter’s BABIP numbers its important to remember what’s behind them. Everything I’ve read about his BABIP seems to indicate a slower bat and more out of zone swings… things that negate the idea that it was mostly bad luck

  2. I don't see what all this analysis is about.

    IT'S ABOUT LEVERAGE. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO HE IS OR WHAT HE'S DONE.

    We already offered him more then anyone else will. Now he could just take it or lose it.

  3. Mark, you wrote "I feel like everyone has gone overboard in criticizing Jeter’s demands, and frankly assuming that a man and a team of intelligent, well-paid people have gone insane is … well … a little insane."

    THANK YOU!

    If Jeter is only worth $15 MM a year for another three years, so be it. But the idea that the Yanks would not miss Jeter if he goes is … insane.

    The idea that the Yanks have all the leverage is also insane. The Yankees have no one else who could play shortstop at above replacement value. Jeter can retire tomorrow as a millionaire hundreds of times over.

    But the truly insane thing is to think that somehow Jeter and his agent aren't handling this right. Jeter is well represented. His agent knows a lot more about this process than we do. I think I was naive to imagine that this would all fall together neatly and without controversy, but the fact that things have gotten messy does NOT reflect badly on anyone in this negotiation. Jeter is trying to get what he can get in what may be his last contract as a pro ballplayer. The Yankees are trying to save whatever money they can save. Nothing wrong with that, not on either side.

    Yes, there's the thought that Jeter should agree to play for a lower salary, to free up money for the Yankees to use in the pursuit of Cliff Lee and other free agents. That's a nice thought, but life doesn't work that way. If the Yanks are short of cash, then they might approach A-Rod, and Teix, and CC, and A.J., and see if those guys are willing to chip in some of their salaries to aid the cause. I doubt that any such campaign would get the Yankees anywhere, and I similarly doubt that Jeter is going to leave any money on the negotiating table.

    Let's let these negotiations take their course. If Jeter can pry $20MM+ annually out of the Yankees, then good for him. If he can't, then it's his personal decision whether to play for the Yankees for less, or go off and do something else.

  4. Again, agreeing with Brien. Is it that big a stretch to think that the actual on field value of Nunez and Jeter may be closer than you think next year? Factor in an improvement with Nunez (not impossible) and a further decline with Jeter (again, not that far-fetched) and it may be a wash. ESPECIALLY, when one thinks who the Yankees could hire with the 15-18-20 million that would be freed up by not signing Jeter. We could sign Crawford just for the bench – or Werth – or make a run at another pitcher. Any of whom should add enough to offset the potential downgrade from Jeter to Nunez.

  5. couldn’t agree with larry more. if the H steinbrenners insist on cutting

    jeter’s $18.9m salary, i would love to see him take a walk, either to a

    lucrative retirement or taking less money from another team for his

    300th hit just as a way to stick it to the sons of george.

    his demise is wildly exaggerated. the jamesian disciples can hurl their

    acronyms all around but anyone who actually watches the games knows

    what jeter has meant and can still mean … and it isn’t about money …

    the difference of $20m spread over 4 years is chump change for the yankees. there is more at work here.

  6. brien …

    my suggestion would be 4 years at 76m total but the resulting difference still works out to
    about $5m per annum or 2 1/2% of the annual payroll. you think that is going to prevent
    the yankees from making a needed move at the trade deadline?

    by the way, you didn't watch more yankee games than i did last year. as far as jeter looking
    worse from the eyeball test than from a statistical perspective, i agree from an offensive point of
    view. he was twitchier in the batters box and never seemed to relax. i think it's correctable for
    a player with his work ethic and desire to succeed but i respect the opinion that it is strictly a
    function of age and that his decline will be precipitous. no crystal balls around here so we will just
    have to let it play out and see. on the defensive side, however, i think his decline has been sig-
    nificantly exaggerated. his 6 error total in 150 + games is ample evidence that he makes all
    the routine plays and the fact that he registered more assists last year than in 2010 speaks to
    maintaining his range … and noone makes the shortstop pivot any better.
    the emotion of the issue cannot be extracted when assessing what he SHOULD be paid. his
    market value is inarguably less than he is looking for when viewed in levine's words that
    this is strictly a " player transaction ". that is the yankees leverage. jeter is another player,re-
    placeable as they all are and his time has come. as one of the 5 historical yankee icons, however,
    some of us the negotiation in something other than precise business terms. i am unable
    to divorce jeter's history and legacy from his value to me as a fan. obviously the steinbrenners
    can and it's their money so my 2 cents aren't even worth cents.
    i still contend that jeter has the option of walking and i hope his pride prompts him to do it. it's
    a longshot but so were the giants.

  7. brien …

    i said it was emotional and that is the enemy of " making sense " so i plead guilty to spewing
    " contradictions " . for example, it is my opinion that star players receive far too much money in
    comparison to the journeymen ballplayers, that the impact of any individual position player in
    baseball is far less than in any other major sport. then i turn around and urge the yankees to
    overpay jeter, the player, for his less tangible contributions to the franchise and the city. i am
    paraphrasing from a book i read some years ago but i ask myself … " how in the world do you
    thank a man for a thousand memories?" sentimental??? sure but i place a high value on sentiment.

    turning to the more tangible aspects of our disagreement, errors are far from an accurate barometer of a shortstops worth but i would never contend that they mean " nothing ". there are many flashy types
    who have lapses on routine plays and they can be costly over a season. .. and i repeat that his assist total increased from 2009. not by much but i regard that as a positive. craig calcaterra described jeter
    as a " poor defender ". as an obvious committed fan i would be interested if you agree with me that
    the nature of baseball wouldn't permit a team to flirt with 100 wins if their shortstop was a " poor
    defender ". it's tough to hide a shortstop. hell, the rangers tried to sneak vlad guerrero through a
    game in right field during the recent playoffs and it seemed like every ball hit found him.

  8. brien …

    i assume rollins is the nl playoff ss that you regard as a defensive plus. do you
    consider jeter, at this stage of his career, a below average fielder ?

    i am on the fence regarding his hitting and agree with your comment that he often
    looked overmatched chasing breaking balls that couldn't be reached with an oar.
    that certainly can stem from a loss of bat speed but he looked more confident in
    september and through the playoffs and how his hitting pans out is , for me, one of
    the more fascinating aspects of the 2011 season.

    in your next to last post, you mentioned " never seeing baseball again ". if that
    referred to me, i will be an avid baseball fan always regardless of how this turns
    out and will be as narrowly occupied for the best 26 weeks of the year as i have always
    been although i am not certain whether my allegiance to the yankees will remain as
    strong as it has always been. that will be a visceral reaction and will have to await spring.

    what did you think of the tulo signing?