The Yankees have more money to spend than any other team. The payroll is higher than the bottom four teams (Pittsburgh, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Kansas City) combined in 2011. They can outspend mistakes whereas about half the teams in the league are stuck with them. However, even behemoths have limits, and nothing is bottomless. The only chance that teams with half the payroll of the Yankees have is for New York to spend their money sentimentally and poorly. If the Yankees pay market rate for performance and get average performance per dollar, they win.
This offseason, the Derek Jeter contract talks were interesting. Yankee nation seemed divided on the issue, while I would guess that the majority of baseball fans actually wanted him to re-sign with New York for as much as possible. I know that Derek Jeter is a New York Yankees icon, and some argued that he should get paid for what he means to the organization. There was no way, though, that he was worth what he received, or even half of it, based on his age and his performance in 2010.
Now, he is off to a dreadful start again in 2011 (his slugging percentage is .269, and his on-base percentage is .308). Derek Jeter and I will both turn 37 in about a month, and I can tell you, age matters. He may have some good weeks and some bad weeks, and his numbers should be higher than that if he plays all year. The problem is that they need to be substantially better to justify 17 million a year. And we are just in year one.
Even the rich have a finite amount of resources. For the Yankees, those resources are money and prospects. Eventually, the prospects dry up if you are correcting errors via trade. The money may not seem like it will dry up, but 51 million spent somewhere makes it just that much less likely it will be available elsewhere.
Sports Illustrated’s writers have Jeter’s struggles and age on their mind this week. Joe Sheehan talked about the Derek Jeter problem. Sheehan discusses Jeter’s staggering 71.6% ground ball rate in 2011 (after 65.7% in 2010). He suggests that the Yankees need to move Jeter down the lineup, and that they don’t have any realistic replacements in the organization. Joe Posnanski had already written an essay on Jeter and aging earlier this week: “And the older I get, the more I bet on the years to win. It’s a bit cynical, I admit — it’s a lot more fun to root for people to beat age for as long as possible.”
Both Sheehan and Posnanski think Jeter is effectively done. So does my soon to be 37-year old self. The funny thing, from an outside, non-Yankee fan perspective, is that this discussion is not happening 2 years into a contract or with a year left, but literally months after a 51 million dollar deal for three years (plus a player option for a 4th). The ink isn’t even dry yet. These kind of decisions give other teams a chance in the long run. Jeter should get his 3,000th hit this season in a Yankees uniform. Everyone should be celebrating him wearing it past that hit as well.
[photo via Getty]