The inevitable has finally occurred. Putting an end to a situation that had no end but this one, the Yankees and Derek Jeter have agreed a contract that ties the two together through at least the 2013 season and probably the end of 2014. With Jeter having no chance to better the Yankees' offer elsewhere, and the Yankees willing to acknowledge -- in his paycheck -- that he's not just another aging shortstop, it was just a matter of time before the two sides worked it out.
Jeter, who set career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage at 35, will make $16 million per year for the next three years, a salary that makes him the highest-paid shortstop in the game and one of the 20 highest-paid players in baseball. The contract includes a Rube Goldberg contraption of a fourth year, with a player option that, if declined, triggers a $3 million buyout clause, a guaranteed salary of $8 million, and a bonus structure that includes points from everything from MVP finish to winning a Gold Glove. Jeter may get a raise if he places on
Realistically, he'll make $8 million if he exercises the option, and since that's just a marginal $5 million above the buyout, there's a reasonable chance that we're going to go through this again three years from now. The incentives are almost unreachable -- well, they might still be giving Jeter Gold Gloves by then -- and while Jeter's demands this time around were so lofty that they limited his options to one, it's entirely possible that a 40-year-old Jeter could be worth more than $5 million on the open market as a utilityman, éminence grise and box-office attraction. Unless he's completely done, he'll have little reason to exercise his option.
There's no way around it: this is a contract that pays Jeter for what he has done, rather than what he is expected to do. It is sui generis, disconnected completely from market forces. Miguel Tejada, who was a bit worse than Jeter this year at the same age, was guaranteed about 15 percent of what Jeter got. Orlando Cabrera, a year younger and about as effective as Tejada last year, might not get that. Heck, it's not that much less than what Troy Tulowitzki, one of the best players in baseball, is guaranteed at the peak of his six-year extension. The Yankees, not wanting to deal with the backlash, not able to replace Jeter with a star, not willing -- for all their bluster -- to treat him like a 36-year-old shortstop coming off a career-worst year, aren't paying Jeter; they're paying off Jeter.
The most likely scenario is that Jeter continues to decline, if not in a straight line, in a noticeable pattern over the life of the deal. His contract may be without compare, but as a player he's one of many aging superstars, and the ones he most resembles statistically -- such as Robin Yount, Alan Trammell and Craig Biggio -- were not good everyday players after 36. There are precious few examples, in baseball history, of players even able to play shortstop regularly in their late 30s, and the ones who did successfully were excellent defensive players in their prime, a label that even his most ardent defenders wouldn't hang on Jeter.
This is a huge problem for the Yankees, who have no place else to play Jeter due to the makeup of their roster and payroll. Worse still, any further offensive decline will make moving him a moot point, as his bat won't play anywhere but shortstop. The money is spent, and the challenge for the Yankees over the next three seasons is to do what they couldn't do in this negotiation: evaluate their shortstop based on his contributions to what is supposed to be the sole goal of the organization: winning a championship.