Jeter’s Pinstriped Parachute

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A side note of Mariano Rivera’s announcement that he plans to retire at the end of the 2013 season has nothing to do with the accolades and feting he’s receiving as a preface to what will go on during the whole season for his farewell tour. The Yankees flux has gone beyond their age, their lack of significant acquisitions over the winter, the injuries, the talk of whether or not the Steinbrenners are in for the long-term, and the shifting of expectations. Fans are beginning their panic and, as reality sets in that there’s no intention nor desire to replace star players with other star players, the realization is a terror-filled nightmare that the Yankees’ two-decade run with Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and stars surrounding them with “magic” and “tradition” carrying them through all adversity is coming to an end.

It may get worse from here.

The Rivera retirement and likelihood of a down season and missed playoff spot will put Jeter is a position where he has the Yankees organization in a vise to overpay him in 2014-2016 at age 40-42.

The main focus of pending free agents, money and the future has centered around Robinson Cano; the intent and implementation of getting the payroll down to $189 million by 2014; and what to do with Alex Rodriguez’s onerous $114 million remaining on his deal. But it’s been forgotten that Jeter is also eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. He has a player option for 2014 at $8 million. He’s already activated an extra $1.5 million in bonus money for winning the Silver Slugger in 2012. There’s a $3 million buyout. Depending on how he plays in 2013 (there are also bonuses for All-Star/Playoff/World Series MVPs and for finishing in the top six in the MVP voting), the Yankees will owe him a guaranteed $10.5 million or the $3 million buyout.

If Jeter returns to form after his ankle injury, he’s not exercising an option for $10.5 million. He’ll want more money and he’s not forgetting the treatment he received from the Yankees during his last foray into free agency when they essentially told him to leave if he didn’t like the offer they presented. It didn’t escape his notice that GM Brian Cashman sat at the press conference disinterestedly texting and looking supernaturally bored by the proceedings.

Let’s look at the worst possible scenarios for the Yankees and why Jeter’s power in the relationship will rise exponentially as the club’s fortunes fall.

  • The Yankees have a bad year of 85 wins (or fewer) and finish out of the playoffs
  • Cano files for free agency and is making the tour with the Dodgers continually raising the ante, trapping the Yankees in the vacuum of either going far beyond the money and years they wanted to pay or letting their one remaining in-his-prime star leave
  • Pettitte sees how the team is declining and retires
  • Rivera’s departure is official
  • Jeter has a good year and declines his option

What then?

With this avalanche of transition coming down on the organization, Jeter won’t be as conciliatory and agreeable in the contract negotiations as he was after 2010. As competitive and coldblooded as he can be, loyalty and personal preferences won’t factor into the equation. He’ll retaliate for what happened in 2010 and make sure the Yankees have to compensate him on the backend for the perceived disrespect they showed him by lowballing him and daring him to walk away. In the end, they paid him, but it was not smooth and it was certainly not friendly. It was business and Jeter can spin that around and stick it to the organization in an identical fashion to the manner in which they stuck it to him because they can’t withstand the above-listed factors and Jeter openly considering leaving for better pastures with his hometown Tigers, the championship level Giants, or even the Dodgers along with Cano. If he truly wants to play hardball, he could flirt with the Mets or Red Sox!!

While the Yankees are staring into the abyss of another $240 million contract and an extended war with Scott Boras and the Dodgers over Cano, they’ll also have to give Jeter a contract for severance, time-served and a pinstriped parachute because they used every possible means to drag him over the coals in 2010. I’d say something to the tune of an agreement to take a lower base salary in 2014 to help the team get to $189 million, then an extra 2-3 years at a total of $45-60 million would placate Jeter and assuage his bruised feelings.

Jeter wants to be a Yankee for life, but he won’t forget what happened during his last negotiation. He holds the hammer now and you can bet he’s going to slam it down. Hard.

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Benching and Dumping A-Rod Doesn’t Fix This Mess

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For Alex Rodriguez, the only conceivable way this gets worse is if it’s discovered that it was in fact him who was fooling around with a woman during a September game in a filthy stadium toilet and that his attempts to conceal himself by wearing a CC Sabathia shirt worked for a short period of time before the truth eventually came out. Of course it wasn’t A-Rod, but that’s not the point.

The point is the truth or some perception of it.

Nestled among the generic, semantically fueled denials uttered by Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman is the truth, but you’ll have to dig to find it and also need to accept that it wasn’t the words that he said, but the manner in which he said them that conveyed the reality.

Like a politically-minded frontman whose power has ebbed; whose reputation is disintegrating like an old T-shirt; and whose job might be on the line, Cashman took the hit for the club when he denied the reports that the Yankees are looking to trade A-Rod and are willing to either swallow an exorbitant sum of money to do it or take another team’s head (and stomach, and backside) ache such as Heath Bell to make it happen.

You can read the updated story reported here by Keith Olbermann on his MLBlog. (Keith linked yours truly near the end of the original posting when talking about Yankees’ PR hatchet man Jason Zillo—my piece was about Zillo’s attempts to hinder NY Times Magazine writer Michael Sokolove from pursuing a piece about age and Derek Jeter.)

I believe that the reports are accurate and that the Yankees—with or without Cashman’s tacit knowledge—are greasing the skids to get A-Rod out of town no matter what. In addition to denying that A-Rod was being discussed in trades, Cashman also stated that his benching is purely baseball related.

Is A-Rod out of the Yankees’ lineup because of his hitting struggles? Is it because the club has had enough of him and his sideshow and is punishing him for the transgression that he supposedly asked for the phone number of an Australian model after he’d been removed from game 1 of the ALCS? Or is it a combination of everything that’s gone wrong with him since he was acquired in 2004?

A-Rod looks overmatched at the plate and it’s up to the club to determine whether it’s a slump or if they’re simply better off benching him because the players they use to replace him can’t do much worse. As for the allegation that he tried to get a date during the game—so what? It happens all the time and that it’s a point of contention with factions of the organization speaks to the elasticity of propriety. If it was 2009 and A-Rod did the same thing in Anaheim during the ALCS when he’d been pulled for a pinch-runner, no one would’ve said a word because he was killing the ball. In fact, the old-school Steinbrenner sons likely would’ve shook their heads as their father did at the antics of David Wells and other players who did “guy stuff” in what they perceive as a man’s world and laughed at A-Rod just doing what A-Rod and other men do when they spot a pretty girl. The stark contrast being that unlike 99% of the planet, A-Rod has the ability to try to get a date and make it happen.

If the Yankees are benching him as a punitive act, it’s somewhat laughable considering that Cashman himself had his own issues with a woman he met and dated because he’s the GM of the Yankees. If Cashman hadn’t had a card that said Executive VP and GM of the Yankees and instead worked as an usher at the stadium, he wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from the woman. She certainly wasn’t with Cashman for his ratty looks and dully monotonous vocal tones.

Cashman’s behavior was in fact far worse than A-Rod’s because it was Cashman who wrote a letter of reference for the woman with whom he was involved and did so on Yankees stationery. All A-Rod did was happen to be wearing a Yankees uniform when he supposedly put the moves on the model.

And looking at the picture below, can you blame him?

Players do this more often than the public realizes and it’s not a big deal for any reason other than that it’s A-Rod and he’s not hitting, so all is magnified and the piling on of reasons to get rid of him.

As for the supposed trade talks, Cashman’s denials ring hollow and the entire listening audience, if they’ve been paying attention over the past decade-and-a-half of Cashman’s reign, saw right through it. In his desperate attempts to spin the story, it would’ve been more honest and believable if he sat with his head tilted, gesticulated with his hands in a “yeah, yeah, yeah, even I don’t believe this BS fashion,” and literally said:

“A-Rod, blah blah blah. He’s not being discussed in trades, blah, blah, blah. No Marlins, bleh. Not benched because of off-field stuff or the model thing, yadda yadda yadda. This is a team and the team’s not playing up to capability, blahblahBLAHblah…”

At least it would’ve been honest.

I do expect A-Rod to be dealt this winter, but they’re not going to pick up the entire contract unless they’re getting good, useful pieces in return. Apart from that, it would be the Yankees picking up a chunk of the contract (that owes him $114 million from 2013-2017) and taking someone else’s nuisance and similarly bad contract such as Bell. But getting rid of one player doesn’t solve all the Yankees problems. The bottom line is that they’re not losing because of one player independent of salary, all-time great career numbers, and controversies on and off the diamond.

This entire mess began due to A-Rod’s slump and that he’s the easiest target, but none of the Yankees have hit and, unlike Robinson Cano, at least A-Rod hustles and appears to care. Unlike Nick Swisher, he’s not whining about the fans. And unlike Curtis Granderson, the 37-year-old A-Rod is not supposed to be in his prime as he’s seemingly striking out every time he steps into the batter’s box.

There’s no doubt that A-Rod’s a distraction, but in this case he’s one of convenience to shift the blame from the rest of the team being as bad or worse than him. If they get rid of him, they’ll still have a bucketful of age, expense, and decline to deal with and no singular object of revulsion to take the brunt of the ridicule. Then it will be piled onto the front office concerning what they’ve done to let this team decay. Then the underlying holes will be revealed and they’re not as easy to fix as paying someone off to leave.

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