The New York Yankees and free-agent shortstop Derek Jeter are embroiled in what has become a high-stakes game of chicken. The Yankees have essentially dared the 36-year-old icon to walk away.
"We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account," Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com. "We've encouraged him to test the market and see if there's something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That's the way it works."
By "this," Cashman has to be referring to the three-year, $45-million contract most reports indicate the Yankees have put on the table for Jeter. There have been indications that Jeter would like a six-year deal that would take him to age 42. Jeter's agent, Casey Close, recently used the word "baffled" when talking about the Yankees approach to negotiating with Jeter.
Pretty obvious the kid gloves are off here. The boxing gloves are on. Jeter is apparently not in the frame of mind to give the Yankees what he might consider a discount, despite being 36 and having just completed the worst offensive season of his career. The Yankees are, obviously, not in the frame of mind to give Jeter whatever he wants simply because his name is Derek Jeter.
So, we have a stalemate.
Tyler Kepner of the New York Times recently penned a great summary of the situation, in which he basically found fault with the stubbornness of both sides.
Jeter has made more than $205 million from the Yankees. He likes it here. The Yankees like him. The sides have had 10 years to think about their next agreement. Did it really have to get nasty?
Is it so hard for the Yankees to recognize that Jeter’s impact goes far beyond statistics? Is it that much of a blow to Jeter’s pride to admit that tying for the major league lead in outs, while playing a young man’s position at age 36, is a legitimate cause for concern?
Kepner is right, of course. He is also right to point out that part of the problem with the Yankees vs. Jeter melodrama is the 10-year contract the Yankees handed Alex Rodriguez a few years back. That deal will, not so coincidentally, take A-Rod to age 42. Jeter, I would have to believe, looks at that deal and at what he has done for the franchise in comparison to Rodriguez and feels he should be taken care of by the Yankees for just as long.
That deal, however, was engineered by the reckless Hank Steinbrenner. Jeter is now deal with Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner, who are much less inclined to put emotion ahead of business.
I think the Yankees will eventually budge off the three-year, $45-million. They want Jeter and he wants them, despite all this mayhem. Maybe the Yankees will move to four years at, say, $64-68, million. But not more than that.
Jeter, though, eventually has to realize one thing. The Yankees hold all the cards here. The franchise has survived plenty of ugly breakups, and while there would be a short-term firestorm they would survive a breakup with Jeter, too. It is Jeter's legacy that would suffer most -- not the Yankees reputation, ticket sales or ability to win on the field. None of that would change dramatically if Jeter were to pack his bags and go pursue 3,000 hits elsewhere.
Buster Olney of ESPN addressed the Yankees' stance on Jeter in a Tuesday blog entry.
Here's one big factor working against Jeter in this negotiation: While the Yankees want him and are offering him above what his market value is, they operate in the knowledge that if Jeter doesn't re-sign -- if he actually walks away -- then his departure would not be a mortal blow to their pennant hopes in 2011. If Jeter walked away in 2001, that would have been different; he was an exceptional player then.
Now he is a good player, but far from irreplaceable.
Ultimately, the Yankees want to win World Series titles. They would rather try to do it with Jeter, which is why they are already offering him more than any other franchise is likely to even approach. Yankee fans would rather see them do it with Jeter, too.
It will be interesting to see which side blinks first. My guess is it will have to be Jeter. He has more to lose.