Jeter’s exquisite timing fails him as Yankees play hardball

November 25, 2010

BASEBALL/One might have expected a cordial meeting of the minds between a grateful Yankees ownership and the classy face of baseball’s bellweather franchise when it came to agreeing one last contract for captain Derek Jeter.

One would be wrong.

The spendthrift Yankees, whose $200 million-plus annual payroll is far and away the most in Major League Baseball, are playing hardball with the 36-year-old shortstop.

And Jeter, who has comported himself impeccably in the clubhouse and as one of the most dependable players on the field in five World Series title teams, appears to be reaching for riches now well beyond his value on the diamond.

The Yankees have offered Jeter a very respectable three years for $15 million per.

Jeter’s agent is pressing for more years and a bigger annual figure.

A compromise resolution is the most likely outcome, but the negotiation has turned bad-tempered and public with comments inspiring headlines in the local papers and the unseemly posturing has polarised the Bronx Bombers’ fan base.

The Steinbrenner family owners say this is a business deal and that they have already paid handsomely for past service.

Jeter just completed a 10-year, $189 million contract, earning $21 million for 2010.

His usually exquisite timing failed him last year. Instead of a rousing salary drive, Jeter posted a career-low .270 batting average and .340 on-base percentage.

General manager Brian Cashman said if Jeter thought he could get a better offer than what the Yankees were offering he should shop around.

Many Jeter supporters have phoned into talk radio shocked at this public treatment of the captain.

The back page of the New York Post dummied up a photo of Jeter in a Boston Red Sox uniform. “PICTURE THIS!” shouted the back page headline.

For a club so steeped in a winning tradition, it is easy to imagine Jeter tied to the Yankees image for decades to come in the manner of former great Joe DiMaggio.

Jeter is also poised to reach a milestone next season never achieved by any Yankee — he is only 74 hits shy of the magic 3,000-mark.

Supporters of Jeter also point to the team’s generosity in extending slugging third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s contract after a monster 2007 season at 10 years for $275 million with $30 million in bonuses fixed to his chase of the career home run record.

But the contract for A-Rod, one year younger than Jeter, now seems way out of line particularly after revelations of the power hitter’s past steroid use and a hip injury that has slowed him down.

Solid citizen Jeter will be handsomely paid in the end, but may pay the price for a lesson learned by the Yankees.

PHOTO: New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter checks on the ball as he runs through second on his way to a triple against the Texas Rangers in the third inning during Game 4 of their Major League Baseball ALCS playoff series in New York, October 19, 2010. REUTERS/Bill Kostroun

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