When you follow the Yankees, the notion of the “next big story” is perpetual: Everything fades into something else, usually involving A-Rod. It is the Yankees own version of a 24-hour news cycle.
At some point this year, maybe even soon, the big story will be Derek Jeter’s future. It is inevitable. It is also unprecedented.
There has never been a player who has made as much money and been as critically linked to a franchise as Jeter. There is, literally, no history to look back at and say, “yes, of course, this is how we handle the situation” when it comes to addressing Jeter’s contract, which expires in 2010. Everyone is flying blind.
What makes the situation even more difficult is that the two elements which comprise it – Jeter’s baseball abilities and his intangible value – are at odds. From a baseball standpoint, it is incredibly unusual for a 36 year old position player (particularly one whose statistics have been subject to relatively standard aging drops) to get any type of big-money long-term deal. From an intangible standpoint, Jeter’s worth to the Yankees business model (in popularity, fan support and marketing/sales) makes keeping him with the team forever a no-brainer. The problem lies in putting those diverging sentiments together.
Joel Sherman wrote about the issue in today’s Post, but it’s difficult for anyone to have a clear and completely defensible position on what the Yankees should do with Jeter. Changing positions may or may not be a realistic option; last time I checked, the Yankees have a first baseman they love, a second baseman they seem to believe in and way too many DH’s, not to mention no particular reason to believe Jeter would be any good at either infield position, have enough range to play center or hit for enough power to justify a corner outfield spot. Plus, there’s no guarantee Jeter is interested in playing somewhere other than shortstop. Then again, would he really be interested in playing somewhere other than New York?
Knowing Jeter, he will offer incredibly little information into his thinking on the subject of the future (I foresee a lot of “We’re just trying to win today’s game, man” quotes) so how the process unfolds may be murky. But know for sure that at some point in the future, the Yankees will have to begin a dialog with Jeter and his agent about what happens next.
What will? No one knows. For now, all we can do is wait for the answer – and the “next controversy” that will surely follow.