Addressing the "We're better off without Derek" theory

Photo by Al Bello, Getty Images

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.

0 thoughts on “Addressing the "We're better off without Derek" theory

  1. deadrody

    I don’t think its a matter of being “better off”. Would they be better off in the long run ? No.

    Would it be the end of the world ? Hardly.

  2. Ben Vinutti

    The Yanks would be better off if DJ stays if for no other reason the distraction effect and the negative effect of the inevitable, never-ending comparisons that would be made between his replacement and the DJ of old.

    • T.O. Chris

      You don’t think once Jeter retires every SS who tries to replace him will have to live with “following Derek Jeter”…. it’s like being the QB to replace Dan Marino it’s got “hard times” written all over it, no matter when that move goes down there will be distraction and media attention on “who is the next Jeter”.

  3. T.O. Chris

    I don’t think it’s “we’re better off without Jeter” that’s just trying to put words into peoples mouths the overwhelming reaction I’m seeing is “we’re better off without Jeter if the only way to retain him is go 4+ years and 20+ million”.

    I haven’t seen anyone suggesting take the 3/45 off the table, I haven’t even really seen anyone hoping he leaves we just don’t want to look up and have two 40 year olds playing the right side of the infield.

    I’m tired of being made to look like the bad guy because I’m not willing to overpay an aging short stop with a slowing bat, I’m all for bringing back the captain and overpaying him “for all he’s done” just so long as he isn’t making 20 a year and just so long as it’s under 4 years, is that really so unreasonable?

    It’s not like a single fan is hoping Derek leaves you just happen to be seeing a lot of anger directed at Jeter for the first time in his career because 1. Jeter haters always are going to look for a way to wipe away the “mr perfect image” and 2. Because he is placing his own interests and pockets above the team when he has stated his whole career “winning is all that matters”.

    Players get blasted by the fans and the media daily (AJ Burnett and Alex to name a few) and I have never seen this many Yankee fans cry and defend their player this much in the past, is Derek Jeter immune from scorn?

    • Ben Vinutti

      Your first sentence sums it up best.

  4. T.O. Chris

    Trying to compare saving money to spread elsewhere on Jeter to Lee, Arod or Mariano just doesn’t fit… With Jeter your best reason for keeping him around is buisness related because let’s face it he isn’t in any top 10 lists right now for SS but Lee, Mariano and Alex are all still producing at a much higher level than Derek. I understand the comparison, your trying to say “spread the money around” is a silly stand point on Derek when we spend big on everyone but spending money on 1 of the best players of all time coming off an MVP year, the best closer in the game/ever and a Cy Young winner two years removed is far different from paying what is essentially an average SS who should be hitting 7th or 8th in the lineup 20 million a year for 4-6 years.

    To me these are sperate situations and you can’t reasonably look at giving a contract to Alex, Lee or Mo the same as giving a similar deal to Jeter he just is no longer in that elite category anymore, hell at this point the guy is asking for a raise coming off his worst year ever.

    Alex- MVP 4 hitter 30-50 HRs 100 RBI
    Mo- Best closer in the league
    Lee- possibly best lefty in the game and we need another top end starter to solidify rotation

    Jeter- a bottom of the lineup hitter with average production all around

    One of these things is not like the other

  5. Ben Vinutti

    You don’t think once Jeter retires every SS who tries to replace him will have to live with “following Derek Jeter”…. it’s like being the QB to replace Dan Marino it’s got “hard times” written all over it, no matter when that move goes down there will be distraction and media attention on “who is the next Jeter”.  (Quote)

    Of course I agree, but there is a huge difference between replacing a guy whose “time has come” like Tino replacing Mattingly (still was a difficult transition) and a guy who is perceived as forced out with a lot left in the tank…

  6. oldpep

    I don’t think Jeter not being around has much (if any) effect on the business side of the NYY. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a ‘face of the franchise’ nowadays, either.

  7. Seth

    Steve:

    I agree with the above comments, the issue isnt whether we are better off without Jeter. We clearly are better off with him, especially next year. But the issue is that in two or three years he could be a borderline MLB player. Thats fine if he only has a 3 year contract, if he has a four year contract you almost have to accept that half of those years could be wasted.

    The question isnt “are we better off without Jeter” its “how much worse off are we without him”. In your post you seem to largely concede that within the field, not that much. In terms of any other impact 1. Even if Jeter retires now (your original suggestion) why cant he come back to the stadium and be Yankee lifer? 2. Isnt business revenue tied above all else to winning, if we win, money will flow 3. Jeter will get 3,000 hits next season. Again, bringing him back next season is a no brainer, maybe even the season after that is easy. But we arent talking about a 1-2 year contract.

    The only point a lot of us are making is that a three year deal for Jeter is risky enough, anything else is just insane. Would I sign Jeter to a 3/45 deal, yes, I could even go higher in terms of dollars, just not years.

    As an aside, not to dwell on the point, but it does show how far Jeter has fallen that we are talking about the possibility of having to replace him with a league average shortstop and really the strongest objections stem from business, not baseball reasons.

  8. EdB

    Great Post. Nice to see someone understands the business side of baseball. I don’t buy that Jeter’s hard stance conflicts with his “winning is everything” image. The Yankees do have the money to pay Jeter and if they paid the other aging stars Jeter has every right to negotiate the best deal for himself. Its not like basketball where there’s basically a salary limit so it really comes down to where you want to play and who has cap space. The Yankees and Jeter both place the premium on winning and they’ve done just that during Jeter’s career.

    One difference between the Yanks and the Red Sox these past 15 yrs has been the way they treat free agents and older players. While the Yanks will either cut bait quietly or just draw out negotiations, the Red Sox treat their free agents horrible out the door. The fact that Johnny Damon refused to even take their phone calls and Tex never saw them as an option is a telling sign. Just ask Nomar, Mo Vaughn, or even Manny. One can easily see Tex envisioning himself in the decline phase of his contract dealing with the Boston organization (not media or fans) downplaying and belittling all of his previous prime year accomplishments. Guys look at how organizations treat their players over the long haul. If you’re Justin Upton maybe you sign with the Yankees at 26 knowing that the organization will pay market through your prime and well over market in your decline (See CCs next contract).

    2012 free agent Shortstops
    Jason Bartlett (32)
    Yuniesky Betancourt (30) – $6MM club option with a $2MM buyout
    Ronny Cedeno (29)
    Rafael Furcal (34) – $12MM club/vesting option
    Alex Gonzalez (34)
    J.J. Hardy (29)
    Omar Infante (30)
    John McDonald (37)
    Augie Ojeda (37)
    Jose Reyes (29)
    Jimmy Rollins (33)
    Ramon Santiago (32)
    Marco Scutaro (36) – $6MM club option/$3MM player option with a $1.5MM buyout
    Jack Wilson (34)

    Who are we going to replace Jeter with again? The only guys on that list that are any good are arguably further in the decline phase than Jeter. Trade for Stephen Drew? Aren’t prospects more valuable than cash flow to the Yanks?

    • T.O. Chris

      A 29 year old Jose Reyes isn’t in a decline like Jeter and I would venture to say signing Jimmy Rollins at 33 to a 3 year deal is much safer than Jeter for 4+.

      Also unless CC opts out of his deal next season I don’t see a “next contract for Sabathia… there would be almost no incentive to sign a 35 year old Sabathia considering he would never be an ace again and at best you’d be paying for the previous years, no once his deal is done I imagine the let him walk and use players from within or younger free agents to fill his shoes.

  9. Reggie C.

    If the “drink the reality potion” is something coming out of the Yankee Tampa HQ and not a mere media invention, then its time for Cashman to earn his money once more. Cashman has got to look to acquire Hardy. Or Reyes, who’s apparently available for the right haul of prospects.

    Targeting Reyes seems the way to go.

  10. EdB

    Reyes breaks down almost every year. His value is tied up almost entirely in bat speed and foot speed–ditto Rollins to a smaller extent. Those guys tend to peak a little earlier, especially when their bodies get beat up a lot. How many leg problems has Reyes has in his career? How valuable was Alfonso Soriano as a middle infielder after the age of 30?

    As for Rollins–look at his rate stats the past 4 yrs. As bad as Jeter’s age 37 yr was–it was about the same as Rollins has done in the past 3 yrs. Again, i’m also going to point out the injury history. Jeter’s 37 yr old body has seemed to hold up better than Rollins did at 31. Signing guys like Reyes and Rollins is how you end up the Mets or Orioles.

    Decline isn’t all about age. Even Don Mattingly was on the decline by 30. Its about injury history and work ethic and genetics.