As I talk to Yankee fans both in person and online, a common theme has been popping up the past few days. Many fans are arguing that Derek isn’t all that hard to replace, and some even say the team would be better off without him. He’s a .270 hitter who was 10th in OPS last year, and given his defensive liabilities at SS pretty much anyone else at the position in baseball would be an upgrade in the field. They say swing a deal for a Stephen Drew-type and deploy the balance of that 15-23 mil you would have paid him elsewhere to improve the club. You would then have the payroll space to sign a Scott Downs AND Rafael Soriano to the 3 year deals you were giving Derek, plus sign a Jerry Hairston-type supersub that the Yanks have been lacking in recent years. You might even have a little left over for a Lefty bat off the bench. That would give you an offensive and defensive upgrade at SS, the best bullpen we’ve had since the late 90s, and some much needed bench help. All with the money you’re spending on Derek. From a Baseball standpoint, it’s difficult to argue with this line of thinking. It makes all the sense in the world.
But the Yankees are not just a baseball team, they’re also a business. Derek’s an iconic Yankee, one who is chasing 3,000 hits, which is something no shortstop has ever done. By the end of whatever deal Derek and the Yankees will eventually sign, he will announce his retirement, perhaps take a farewell tour throughout the league, and have a day where his number is retired at Yankee Stadium. He then transitions to being the next Joe DiMaggio, who shows up at Old Timers Day games and is among the last to be announced among the Yankee greats. All of this builds the brand that is the New York Yankees. The Yankees are all about iconic figures that span the history of the game. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Reggie, Mattingly, and now we add Jeter to the list to represent the 96-2010 teams that won 5 World Series championships and 7 AL pennants. Putting a face to that success sells the notion in the minds of fans and the public that the Yankees aren’t just another baseball franchise, they’re a cut above. That translates into dollars from a business perspective. You pay more for the Lexus than you do for the Toyota, even if they’re made by the same company. Tickets, signage, licensing fees, etc are all sold at a premium to be affiliated with the ‘Greatest franchise in the history of sports’. It’s good business for YES and the Yankees to keep him in the fold even if there are better baseball options out there. The cold hard truth of the matter is watching Derek Jeter chase records as he declines is more compelling television, generates more fan interest and filled with more story lines than watching Stephen Drew have a good season. YES ratings will build as he draws closer and closer to #3,000, commemorative Yankee gear and memorabilia will add further to the Yankee bottom line. It isn’t all just about Baseball.
You always have to balance these business interests against baseball concerns, you can’t have someone who can’t pull his weight out there costing you games no matter how great they once were. But I don’t think anyone can argue Derek is hurting the team yet. His WAR may be slipping, but he’s still comfortably in positive territory. The ‘deploy that money elsewhere’ argument could be made for A-Rod, Cliff Lee and maybe even Mariano. But the Yanks are all about big stars doing great things. They’re not just another baseball team, they’re the Yankees. That ‘Yankee’ name means what it does because iconic players like Jeter do great things in that uniform. Things like that build your fan base, sell your seats and put eyeballs on your network. Part of the reason why you’re a Yankee fan is because they’re not just another Baseball team. Signing Derek, even if there are better options out there, is why they’re the Yankees.