x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Derek Jeter: bidding for one last pay day

Derek Jeter is unlikely to get the deal he wants from the New York Yankees with his new contract.

Derek Jeter is looking for a deal worth US$ 23 million (Dh84.4m) a season from the New York Yankees.
Derek Jeter is looking for a deal worth US$ 23 million (Dh84.4m) a season from the New York Yankees.

On America's Independence Day 71 years ago, Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, who knew he was dying of an incurable disease, leaned into a microphone and intoned: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

Today, your typical American male might consider a now-generation Yankee, Derek Jeter, as the planet's luckiest fellow.

Through 16 seasons he has played the game at such a lofty level that any Hall of Fame voter who does not submit Jeter's name as a first-ballot inductee should have his privileges revoked. He has carried himself with the utmost dignity, never appearing on a police blotter or on the bad side of Yanks management and teammates.

Still not eager to trade places with Jeter? Try this: the Yankees, up until last season, had enriched him by US$205 million (Dh753m), according to the website baseball-reference.com.

The mythical Greek figure King Midas - he of the Midas touch - might be envious of Jeter, whose every move in his professional and personal life seems to turn to gold.

Now comes the first chink in Jeter's armour, an outrageous contract request that almost - but not quite - invokes sympathy for the mighty Yankees.

Jeter, through his agent, is seeking a contract of about $23m annually for the next five seasons, maybe six. The Yanks have countered with an offer of three years at an average of $15m, down from $21m last season.

Each offer is a starting point and, thus, an exaggeration of the chasm between the parties. It does not reflect poorly on Jeter's character, given that all is fair in love, war and contract talks.

But the club's sales pitch is more than fair to a 37-year-old shortstop with declining skills that can be documented, beginning with a career-low .270 batting average last season. Give your bosses a break.

(About that Gold Glove voted to him last month by managers and coaches: the most perplexing honour since the infamous German lip-synchers Milli Vanilli absconded with a Grammy Award in 1990. Jeter led American League shortstops in fielding percentage, but only because his range has shrunk so dramatically that he cannot get leather on any ball not hit directly at him. Only students of statistics know exactly how the "Player Standard Fielding rankings" are compiled, but anyone who rates last of 59 is certainly not the best fielder at his position.)

The Steinbrenner boys who run the Yankees have pledged to close Daddy George's open-chequebook ways and operate the team like a business. Their vow may be disproven without a show of restraint in the bid-a-thon for the free-agent Cliff Lee, the left-handed pitcher; but holding the line with Jeter (and Lee) could benefit baseball by curbing the crazy spending spree that has hit the sport.

Though neutrals suggest that both sides will come off their opening proposals, a stare-down might last a while because of this unique factor: Jeter wants to be regarded as the face of the franchise, a walking billboard who contributes more than runs and putouts.

The Yankees, however, view Jeter (at least at the negotiating table) as simply a declining player who should be grateful for any significant offer.

Jeter's case is based partly on his belief that next season's countdown to the historical threshold of 3,000 career hits will draw attention and dollars to the team.

While the Yankees cannot shrug off such claims, they are inclined to erase the board and regard Jeter largely as just another sub-.300 hitter who can no longer reach ground balls in the hole. But the guy on the field stationed to Jeter's right is a burr in both camps' saddle.

Of all Yankees past and present, only third baseman Alex Rodriguez has been more monetarily blessed - $264m, according to baseball-reference.com, though much of that was the Texas Rangers' money. In 2007, New York stuck a 10-year extension on a silver platter for Rodriguez, with annual salaries peaking at $32m, leaving them fiscally hamstrung.

To which Jeter would say: "Not my problem." Of all Yankees past and present, his icy relationship with "A-Rod" is the exception to the rule that he gets along with everyone.

Maybe we expect too much of this worthy successor to the Yankees lineage (16 jersey numbers retired) of Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio, Berra, Reggie, Munson and Maris. It is just that, unlike any other contemporary athlete, he belongs forever on the team with which he started.

After all, Jeter insists of being introduced before each at-bat by the disembodied voice of Bob Sheppard, the late PA announcer whose distinct tones provided the narration for the club's modern era.

If you wanted to trade places with someone, Jeter might be your guy.

If you did, here is hoping you would accept a reasonable deal, grace New York with three more seasons and, if the time is right, bow out as the greatest on-and-off-the-field Yankee of them all.