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
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.