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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Up front, understand that Derek Jeter's winning percentage at the negotiating table is far better than his winning percentage on the field. In fact, Jeter's record in contract talks matches Cliff Lee's record in the playoffs.
He's undefeated. Whenever it's been Jeter versus the New York Yankees, the shortstop has cut down the world's most famous ball team with Lee-like ease.
But I know what you're thinking: All aging icons ultimately fall from grace. Muhammad Ali was beaten by Trevor Berbick. Michael Jordan was fired by Abe Pollin. Babe Ruth was dumped by the Yanks.
So this is where the 36-year-old Jeter is finally supposed to get what's coming to him. At last, the Yankees have the hammer. Jeter needs them more than they need him.
|Now 36, Derek Jeter has never been brushed back at the negotiating table.|
This truth could color the negotiations between captain and club and potentially blow up what has been a blissful union. Much more likely, Jeter and his agent, Casey Close, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will agree to agree on the length and value of a new contract.
I believe a fair deal would be for four years at $23 million per.
Yes, I understand such a deal would vastly exceed what Jeter would get on the open market. I understand there were times this year when it seemed the leadoff hitter wouldn't have gotten the ball out of the infield if he were swinging an oak tree.
I understand that we're likely to see more of the 2010 Jeter than the 2009 Jeter over the course of the next deal.
But I also understand that these will be among the most unique contract talks in the history of American team sports. Jeter is untouched by scandal, beloved by the masses, defined by his intangible grace. His worth is better measured by a quarterly report, not a box score.
Jeter has been an invaluable asset in the building of the YES Network, the new Stadium, and the global Yankee brand. As a five-time champ and 14-time postseason participant in 15 controversy-free seasons, Jeter represents the most credible face in sports. The ruling Steinbrenners have used that face to enhance the family business, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Jeter has used Yankee tradition and mythology to his own financial benefit, and there's nothing wrong with that, either.
So at the end of a $189-million deal, how does a team that was just dominated by the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series commit four years and $92 million to a declining star who was more problem than solution against Texas?
Let's start with the years. Alex Rodriguez is signed for seven more seasons, and although he has a presence at the plate Jeter can't even remotely replicate, A-Rod is another aging star with limited range in the field and a lingering hip injury to boot.
If A-Rod is signed for seven more years, Jeter has a right to ask for four. Remember, A.J. Burnett is under contract for three more seasons. Doesn't Jeter deserve at least one more year of security than old reliable?
On the money front, Rodriguez was given a 10-year, $305-million contract three years back that included a $30 million bonus for breaking the career home-run record. A-Rod's subsequent steroids confession forever tainted his homer-happy pursuit and embarrassed the franchise, but he's still likely to collect the full $200 million and change left on the deal, bonus included.
Why can't Jeter ask for a figure less than half of A-Rod's guarantee? Some suspect Jeter will need to take a drastic pay cut and settle for, say, a $12-15 million salary, but would he ever accept a lower average wage than Burnett's $16.5 million?
"We just lost," Jeter said at his locker Friday night. "It's selfish for me to think about what's going on with me while we're trying to win a game. Obviously I haven't given it any thought."
Human nature suggests Jeter has given this plenty of thought. In statements he's made in recent years to Yankee executive Gene Michael and to his own personal trainer, Jason Riley, Jeter has indicated he wants to play until he's about 43. He has also indicated a willingness to change positions, if necessary, for his final few seasons.
|The Yankees' Captain has always put on a great public face in his 15 years wearing pinstripes.|
Maybe he can pull that off, maybe he can't. Either way, the Yankees should commit to four seasons in this next contract, take Jeter to his 40th birthday, then go year to year after that. Before signing this new deal, Cashman should remind Jeter that the Yanks reserve the right to move him to a new position, if necessary, before those four years are up.
Now on to the cash. Jeter made $22.6 million this year while suffering through his worst statistical season. But the Yankees print money, they're the founding fathers of the outlandish contract and, of greater consequence, they want Jeter to retain his heart-and-soul standing with the team.
There's no need to diminish him by demanding that he take a pay cut. If one athlete of this generation deserves to be overpaid, it's Jeter. A token, thanks-for-the-memories bump to $23 million would suffice.
Jeter probably doesn't have another exact 2009 left in him, but as a highly-motivated winner fueled by criticism, there's a fair chance he'll have two more seasons that will look and feel more like 2009 than 2010.
Of course, that could leave two seasons with Jeter in the role of the ceremonial athlete, though not quite Arnold Palmer at the Masters. It's the price of doing business with a living legend.
And Jeter has always gotten his price. In 1999, with Cashman sure he would win their arbitration case with a $3.2 million bid, Jeter won at $5 million. In 2001, a year after George Steinbrenner balked at giving Jeter $118.5 million, the shortstop scored his $189 million deal on top of the $10 million he earned in 2000, leaving him with $80.5 million more than the Boss could've signed him for.
Yes, Jeter is a money player in more ways than one. He'll have a tougher sparring partner in Hal Steinbrenner than A-Rod had in brother Hank, but the captain always finds his way home.
So expect him to get his 3,000th hit in a Yankee uniform next June. And expect him to be making an obscene amount of money when he does.
Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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