Yankees' Jeter Loses Upper Hand In Negotiations

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Derek Jeter, a 15-year Yankee vet, seems to lack leverage in this round of contract negotiations. Jeter wants more than the $45 million for three years the Yankees have offered. But management says he is too old to be paid top dollar. Melissa Block talks with Buster Olney, senior writer at ESPN The Magazine and author of How Lucky You Can Be, about the negotiations.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

When is a salary of $15 million a year not enough? When you're shortstop Derek Jeter, whose name is synonymous with the New York Yankees. The team has offered him a three-year $45 million contract, but the negotiations have taken an ugly turn. And Yankee fans are having to consider the unthinkable: The prospect of a Jeterless team.

Buster Olney joins me to explain. He's a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. Hey, Buster.

Mr. BUSTER OLNEY (Senior Writer, "ESPN The Magazine"): Hey, Melissa. How're you doing?

BLOCK: Im okay. Well, let's talk about Derek Jeter's history with the Yankees. Fifteen years, came up with the franchise, the only team he's ever played for, team captain for nearly a decade. How has it come to this that they're fighting with management?

Mr. OLNEY: In a word, the heirs to names like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. And yet, I think in the last two or three years, we've seen the Steinbrenner sons, Hal and Hank, have really learned more about running a baseball team. And they're sticking more with the bottom-line than their father George did. And so theyve assessed Derek's value far differently than he has.

BLOCK: It's interesting, too, because the general manager, Brian Cashman, has said, look, we're encouraging him, Derek Jeter, to go out and test the market, see if he can do better elsewhere.

Mr. OLNEY: And their view is, the Yankee's perspective is, is that whenever Derek Jeter in the past negotiations, when he was eligible for arbitration in the late '90s, when he negotiated a 10-year, $189 million deal, he always pushed the envelope to get what his value was in the open market, and they paid him.

Well, now that he's 36 and coming off the worst season of his career, their feeling is: Look, we should pay you according to what the market is, and they feel like their offer of three years and $45 million is far more than fair. And that's why they're encouraging him to go talk to other teams that need shortstops like the Cincinnati Reds or the Giants, and they really believe that other teams would pay him far less.

BLOCK: Buster, how much of a factor are the intangibles here. I mean, Derek Jeter has been a class act. He hasn't been a headline-grabber for the wrong reasons. He hasn't been, for example, an A-Rod, who's come across as greedy and alienating the fans. Fans love him.

Mr. OLNEY: I think that, you know, his agent, Casey Close(ph) has made the point that, you know, he's meant so much to the franchise, he's made them a lot of money, and so the Yankees should consider that when making this offer.

And we don't know exactly what Jeter has asked for. You know, some of his friends think that he might be looking for something in the range of $100 to $150 million, rather than $45 million. But the Yankees' perspective of this is they feel like that the $15-million-a-year offer does reflect all those intangibles, and they feel like they're willing to pay him far more than any other team. And that's why they're telling him, talk to other teams.

BLOCK: You don't think that he could do better elsewhere?

Mr. OLNEY: I really don't. With any other team, it's all about production. And if you look at his numbers last year, career-low batting average of .270, questions about his defense, career-low on-base percentage of .340, and if you're the Giants or the Reds, if you're going to pay a player $15 million a year, you're going to be looking for production and not just for the fact that he was the captain of the Yankees.

BLOCK: How do you see this ending up?

Mr. OLNEY: I think that in the end, and I've had agents and general managers tell me this, they don't think that Derek has a lot of leverage in this situation, that in the end he winds up coming back, you know, maybe for a little bit more than they've offered, three years and $50 million. And then the question becomes: Will the captain go into spring training and feel like he was disrespected?

BLOCK: Hard for you, Buster, to imagine the Yankees without Derek Jeter?

Mr. OLNEY: I can't imagine him playing in another uniform. When he was in the eighth grade, and his teacher asked all the students to create a coat of arms for themselves, what Derek Jeter wrote on that piece of paper was himself in a Yankee uniform. That's how he's always seen himself. That's been his lifetime goal. I can't imagine him walking away.

BLOCK: Buster Olney, thanks so much.

Mr. OLNEY: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Buster Olney is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine and the author of a new book, "How Lucky You Can Be."

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