There was never any doubt that Derek Jeter would return to the Yankees in 2014, but coming off a season in which he made $17 million but managed to play just 17 games due to injury, it looked as though he was going to be forced to pick up the $9.5 million player option on his contract, effectively handing himself a $7.5 million pay cut. However, the two sides found a face-saving alternative that resulted in Jeter declining that option and then signing a new one-year deal for $12 million on Friday.
The contract benefits Jeter not only by paying him more money than his option (which had a base value of $8 million and added a $1.5 million bonus for his 2012 Silver Slugger award), but also by sending the signal that the team believes he can still be a valuable player even heading in his age-40 season. Meanwhile, the Yankees appear to have shed the bonuses in Jeter's former contract that would have, however unlikely it may have been, allowed Jeter's salary to swell to $17 million.
Jeter's player option gave him leverage that he was able to use in direct negotiations with principal owner Hal Steinbrenner. Those negotiations were quick and quiet, a stark contrast to the talks between Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and Jeter's agent, Casey Close, over the star shortstop's last contract in the fall of 2010, which found Cashman taking a hard line regarding Jeter's value. Even then, the resulting deal ($51 million over three years plus the player option and bonuses) exceeded Jeter's apparent value coming off an age-36 season in which he hit just .270/.340/.370, all career lows. However, Jeter's 3,000th hit remained in the future, and the Captain validated his faith in himself by finding the fountain of youth during a June 2011 disabled list stay and hitting .321/.369/.434 from his return through the end of the 2012 season.
Things are different now. The right ankle Jeter broke during the 2012 American League Championship Series cracked again during spring training, starting him off on a miserable season in which he missed 145 games, made four trips to the disabled list and batted .190. There's no guarantee that Jeter, who turns 40 next June, will be able to stay healthy in the coming season, let alone make a positive contribution as the Yankees shortstop.
Only three players in baseball history age 40 or older have qualified for a batting title while playing at least 75 percent of their games at shortstop: Omar Vizquel, who did so in 2007 while hitting .246/.305/.316; Luke Appling in 1947 and 1949, and Honus Wagner from 1914-16. One clearly must be an exceptional player to add his name to that list, and Jeter is that, but all indications are that he has finally reached the end of the line. It's telling that Jeter didn't negotiate a second year or even an option onto his new deal. With Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera having retired, Jeter is now the last active player of significance from Joe Torre's championship Yankees teams. With his body having betrayed him so often and so significantly in 2013, it seems it is finally clear to Jeter himself that his time is almost up. It's likely that this contract will be his final one, which would make the 2014 season Derek Jeter's last.