Yankees overpaying Jeter

Can we assume that someone on the Yankees understands the actual value of Derek Jeter? Of a 36-year-old shortstop, that is, with exactly Derek Jeter’s stats and history and performance? Because it seems to me that all this talk of overpaying Jeter, and gladly, is contrary to the team’s goals, principles and best interests.

If the Yankees had won, or even appeared in, this year’s World Series, they could probably get away with paying Jeter 20 million for an annual contract worth about 10 million. “It’s our money, and we can spend it how we choose” is always the Yankees’ rationale for signing at above-market rates. But when you lose a mid-playoff round, the question has to come up: could you have advanced to the Series if you had another player, worth (let’s say) 10 million dollars? That’s a pretty good player—if the Yankees had another 10 million dollar relief pitcher, maybe they could have beat the Rangers, or another 10 million dollar slugger. My point is they can’t justify overpaying Derek Jeter, and forego another 10 million free agent, and claim they’re focused on winning the World Series.

I’m not opposed to them giving him a better contract than he actually deserves—I’m not arguing that they should sign him for the lowest possible amount they can negotiate. But what Jeter’s contract looks to cost the Yankees is another very good player on the roster in 2011, and they didn’t just win the World Series by a margin of one very good player. That’s not consistent with a team whose motto is “We are dedicated to winning the World Series every year.”

As long as he’s good enough to belong on a major league field at all, Jeter has substantial marketing value for the Yankees.

Thing is, though, the way the Yankees spend money, overpaying for Jeter (or anyone else, for that matter) doesn’t really cost them another very good player on the roster. They seem willing to just keep spending and spending.

For most other teams, you’d be right. In many cases, teams looking to pay $15-20 million for a player have to consider the effect this will have on the rest of their roster. If your limit is $80 million or whatever, then you have to be really careful about forking over $20 million for one guy, because that’s one-quarter of your available funds right there.

For most teams, it would be a choice between Mark Teixeira or CC Sabathia or AJ Burnett or Nick Swisher. Or maybe two of those guys. But the Yankees went out and grabbed them all in a single off-season. Similarly, most teams would struggle between Jeter and Rivera, and debate whether to keep one or both of them or try to grab Cliff Lee. All indications are that the Yankees will try to get all three.

It’s like comparing me and some really rich guy eating at an expensive restaurant. There may be one $80 bottle of wine left. I can stretch to $80 and still afford to buy the rest of the meal, but the other guy can afford to call over the sommelier and offer him $120 for the bottle because it won’t affect his ability to order the lobster. I’m not arguing that the Yankees have unlimited money, or that they don’t place any importance at all on financial constraints, but they are far less subject to them than other teams.

My point here, though, is that the Yankees’s budget is NOT big enough to give them the players that will win the World Series, which they claim is their minimal level of acceptable success. That’s the whole enchilada for the gigantic budget–it wins World Series. (Other teams claim successs when they reach lesser goals–the Yankees state that upfront as their benchmark of success.) But when they’ve just been eliminated amd it can be argued that they may have have advanced, and won, the Series if they’d had one more star relief pitcher, or DH, or catcher (all positions they need to upgrade at), I don’t see how they can justify pissing away that salary on Jeter. If they’d just won the Series, it would be hard to argue this position–having lost it, the Yankees don’t have much of an argument aganst it. It’s a demonstrably sentimental and counter-productive decision.

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that the money spent on Jeter would somehow limit the other players the Yankees can get. They have for all intents and purposes an unlimited bankroll.

No, they don’t. If they had, they would have put together a deal that got them Cliff Lee at mid-season. They fell short. They would have picked up a FA catcher, but it looks like they’re going to go with some untrusted kids next year as they move Posada to DH. There will be better pitchers available this season than they had in their bullpen last season, and they won’t sign all of them. Plainly, they don’t have an unlimited budget–they have to pick and choose. And losing to the Rangers suggests strongly to me that paying Jeter the salary he’s entitled to AND the salary of another star will not make them better but worse.

Wrong. They didn’t get Cliff Lee because they didn’t have the package of prospects the Mariners wanted. It had nothing to do with money. They would get a FA catcher if there was a FA catcher on the market better than Posada. There isn’t, catchers are developed and there are very few on any of the major league teams who didn’t develop from within. Benji Molina was the only one out there I think and he’s not better than Posada.

The Yankees are limited by their roster size only. If they don’t sign a FA player it’s because the player didn’t want to go to the AL East or the Yankees specifically. They never get out bid, period. If they don’t pursue a player it’s because they would have to let go of a player they deem more valuable. There was a time when the Yankees could have dumped Robinson Cano to add another bat but to do so they’d have had to trade or release him, they chose not to. Ditto Phil Hughes.

They simply are not out bid, ever.

Available free agents also matters. It’s possible that htere aren’t any catchers worth pursuing. And free agency $$ has no bearing on mid-season trades. Mid-season trades are a function of available talent to send back to another team (in this case Seattle)

Not getting Cliff Lee at the deadline was a matter of losing prospects and not about money.

Where do the Yankees need to improve? Every position is set with Montero and Cervelli sharing the catching with the DH/catcher Posada. They need to upgrade both starting and relief pitching and they’ll spend whatever it takes. I really don’t see how Jeter’s contract has anything to do with it.

The Yankees have to overpay almost everyone they sign because everyone knows they have so much money. It’s that much worse when it comes to resigning their own players. It would be better to pay Jeter market value and use the leftover money somewhere else, but it’s not going to happen. I don’t think that’s inconsistent with trying to win (which might consist of promoting a minor leaguer and saving almost all the money they would have paid him). I see it as a fact of life for them.

And even compared to other Yankee vets, Jeter will especially get overpaid: he’s more valuable to them than anyone else and in terms of his place in team history (as opposed to his production), he’s not replaceable. The Times had an interesting article about this the other day. Their source felt he’s going to get paid around $20 million a year and market value would be around $10 million. (The OP may have read it.) It does offer a counterargument to the idea that they are undercutting their ability to win: “Glenn Stout, the author of “Yankees Century: 100 Years of New York Yankees Baseball,” wrote in an e-mail: “If he fails to perform, what’s another $10 million a year, particularly when you can give Jeter some significant measure of credit for putting the Yankees in such a strong financial position?””

Technically they were outbid for Daisuke Matsuzaka, right? (I don’t recall exactly if they bid on the rights to negotiate with him)

Everything else you said is spot on.

The Yankees can and should overpay for Jeter. He’s the only Yankee I root for, and I would personally hate to see him in another uniform. He’s finally going to make the Yankees retire the number 2, which would mean more if he finished his career in NY.

Besides that, it’s just good PR. The Yankees have blown so much money in the past, that giving Jeter a 20 million dollar contract a year for 4 years is a drop in the bucket for the Yankees, and Jeter is a great face of the team. He has been for so long, I think people take him for granted.

Do I think he’s the best SS out there? Not by a long shot. Do I think he’s worth a nice bump in salary to ride into the sunset with the Yankees.

There’s zero chance he goes anywhere else and everybody knows it on both sides. $20 million a year would actually be a pretty small bump in salary. His last contract was for $189 million over ten years.

A gigantic budget never guarantees a win in the WS. You can’t field 18 against 9 by doubling your budget, the most you can do is get those 9 players to be somewhat better, on average, than the players on other teams.

Somewhat better does a great job of securing the best record over a 162 game season. It does a spotty job of getting you the best record over a 5 or 7 game head to head series.

But the article you cited (that I did read yesterday) plainly puts his value at around 10 mil, and his likely salary at twice that. It’s not as if I care if they want to waste their money, but to disregard the true market value by such a gross amount is tantamount to saying to saying “we don’t care about winning–if we have to choose, we prefer to have Jeter on the roster than to win the world series.” And don’t forget this isn’t only for next year–they’re throwing money at a guy who may well be in decline, and who might not be able to start at some point soon. Imagine if Jeter’s stats fall in 2011 the same amount they fell in 2010, and imagine if the Yankees finish out of the money entirely, both quite possible especially in the AL East.

How is it possible for money to be literally no object, and to then not win the World Series? “This 260 million budget isn’t getting it done, fellas–we need to sign the top four or five free agents every year, as well as paying Jeter and Posada and Mariano whether they can actually play or not.”

The Cliff Lee is only technically about the young prospects they dodn’t have. To the Yankees, young prospects are just another commodity–you can buy them if you pay enough money, and they decided that it wouldn’t be a good use of their budget to overspend on acquiring some cash-poor team’s hot prospects at top dollar–but they could have done just that, if they really had an unlikmitied budget, and then they could have swapped them out for Lee. But (sensibly) they set a cut off, and decided that, beyond a point, it made sense to let Lee go and try to pick him up in the offseason for less. (They’ll still pay his salary, but now they’re not paying to get exclusive rights to him. They’re just going to outbid everyone else.)

Actually the consultant said if he was a “nameless, faceless shortstop” - that is, someone who had Jeter’s recent stats but not his Jeter’s Hall of Fame resume - he’d get around $10 million. We know players with big names and resumes get more money; that’s not unique to Jeter. The point of the article was that even if they’re overpaying for his production on the field, it could be worthwhile financially. That would be one reason to agree to overpay him.

Yes, the team that is trying to add Cliff Lee to back up CC Sabathia and has an opening day infield that makes $200 million a year doesn’t care about winning. It’s a false dilemma that they have to choose one or the other. And while it’s not accurate to say their budget is unlimited, they don’t have to choose between Jeter and a midseason pickup or something like that.

The team plans to keep its 2011 payroll at about the same as in 2010. They can do that because they’ll be resigning Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and maybe Pettitte at prices similar to what they made last year. At the same time, they lose the contracts of Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez, plus Lance Berkman. They also didn’t pick up Kerry Wood’s option and they’re expected to try to get him back for a lower price. If they don’t get Cliff Lee, that money goes to the $10 million player in your example.

Just curious–is there a dollar amount at which you would agree with me? If they offered Jeter a contract for 300 mil over ten years, would you agree that was foolish? If so, what’s the cutoff? There’s got to be a point at which you’d say “That’s just plain counter-productive–it diverts resources from assembling a championship quality roster.” What’s that point for you? For me it’s anything above 12 or 13 mil for one year–you can’t get a player for 2 or 3 mil who’s an improvement over what they have on the bench right now.

Better gas up the ol’ mobile goalposts; they’re about to cover a fair bit of terrain…

Also to return to my main point, it’s the combination of overpaying Jeter AND failing to make the Series that I’m pointing out as a logical contradiction. If they’d won the Series in 2010, they’d have carte blance. No one could question their dedication to winning the championship nor their right to pay Jeter whatever they wanted to. But plainly they need to improve in 2011 and this hardly seems like an improvement in their roster.

If I thought they were spending an amount that really stopped them from getting other players they needed, I’d agree.

Overpaying Jeter is a good or bad decision based on its own merits. Whether they won the series in 2010 does not affect the wisdom of the move because they would still be theoretically giving up the same $10 million player. They did win the series in 2009 with nearly the same team.