Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is declining in performance. Any way one chooses to look at it Jeter is not, by his standards, having a good year. While there are always a myriad of possibilities why a great player is having an ordinary year, there is very real possibility that Jeter, at 36 years old, is simply showing his age.
Through 98 games this season Jeter is hitting a squarely pedestrian .274 and has hit 9 home runs. For a lifetime .315 hitter who averages 17 home runs a year, this is a considerable step down. In fact, Jeter has never hit less than .292 in any given season and has hit above .300 eleven times in his fifteen year career.
And while defense is always a difficult thing to measure, to anybody with a critical eye, it is clear that Jeter has lost a step, or maybe two, at shortstop. Balls up the middle that should be made, say, half the time, are seemingly never made any more by the Yankee captain.
Make no mistake. Derek Jeter is not killing the Yankees. He is not an anchor on the team, not quite, and is still the guy you’d want the 27th out hit to. And, really, he is still one of the handful of Yankees you’d want up in a game deciding situation.
Jeter can clearly play beyond this year. He clearly has much to contribute, both on the field and off.
That said, Derek Jeter is in the final year of his contract. And he is in that awkward late middle age of baseball players. That is, he is no longer a young kid, clearly, but not obviously over the hill.
But this upcoming offseason has the potential to hold the extreme intrigue for the Yankees, Derek Jeter and the team’s and the player’s fans. Jeter is more than a great shortstop at this point. Jeter is emblematic of the modern Yankees and keeping him well in the fold will ultimately make great business sense for the Yankees.
But baseball is a ruthless and cold business, particularly in New York. Ultimately, jobs are on the line based on production and performance. The core fans of the New York Yankees, after all, will always come to the games, sell out the stadium and drive television ratings. But the Yankees, like all professional sports franchises, are after the casual fan more than anything. And nothing brings in the casual fan like winning does. Derek Jeter is the ultimate winning ballplayer, of course, but if his skills have eroded, the return on investment is ultimately what will matter the most.
It remains exceedingly unlikely that Jeter will ever play a baseball game in another uniform. But it seems to be increasingly unlikely that the Yankees will offer Jeter, coming off the worst year of his career, a monster contract that would in any way rival that of Alex Rodriguez’s.
Ultimately, the ball will be very much in Jeter’s court, it would seem.
If he is willing to accept a slightly above market contract, say, for three years and $50 million (which is more than a lesser known player with a similar profile would command), then he will have that waiting for him. However, if he is looking for a five year, $100 million contract, we could be looking for a stare down between the franchise and one of the signature players in its history.
Source: Andrew Marchand, “Crunch time for slumping Captain”, espn.com