Executives in professional sports are like politicians: they only speak when they want to or have to. At this point in time, the New York Yankees do not have to speak on contract negotiations with shortstop Derek Jeter, therefore we can only surmise from recent comments by Yankees brass that they must want to. Like politicians, executives don't talk with reason; they do so with an agenda. The Yankees' agenda is becoming increasingly clear: use the media to pressure Jeter into succumbing to their reported three-year, $45 million offer.
Let's start from the middle.
Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York wrote Wednesday, “And yet, it is beginning to look as if Derek Jeter is human after all, and susceptible to the two curses that have brought down so many of his predecessors in sports and in business. Ego and greed. Or, if you prefer, greed and ego.”
Matthews' statement seems to echo the sentiments of the New York media. Just one month after Jeter took the field for the Yankees into the American League Championship Series, writers and commentators have turned on the most adored player in New York media history. They once called him Mr. November and The Captain, now they call him egotistical and greedy. Why? Because Jeter didn't accept the team's first offer? No. Because Yankees spoke. Because they have publicly pushed the rhetoric of “he needs us more than we need him.”
Back to the beginning.
Jeter had the worst year of his career at the plate and was well below average in the field. He also failed to perform outstandingly in the playoffs. When the Yankees were defeated by the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, Jeter became a free agent. Since then, the Yankees' front office hasn't been shy about their offer or stance on Jeter negotiations. The most recent comment came from GM Brian Cashman, who said, "We've encouraged him to test the market and see if there's something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That's the way it works." Owner Hank Steinbrenner also said the team doesn't owe anyone anything monetarily.
At the moment.
The Yankees, so to speak, are playing hardball. So much so that they have coaxed the New York media into vilifying Jeter. The status quo thinking seems to have evolved into: the Yankees' offer is fair and Jeter should just take it. Newsday writer Ken Davidoff implied such citing a Paul O'Neil quote, where the right fielder said he didn't want too much money. As if to say Jeter should take less money or he's less of a “real Yankee” than O'Neil.
Jeter being the bad guy, or as some have put being “human,” isn't either, it's nothing more than The Captain and his agent negotiating the same way any other valuable player would: by submitting counter offers and negotiating until both sides can agree. Keep in mind there are still nearly 100 days until the shortstop will need to report to spring training.
Now, Jeter's agent Casey Close is forced to fight fire with fire against not only the Yankees but the New York media as well. He has two options: convince fans via the media that the Yankees are low balling his client or find someone else who will offer Jeter a contract.
If Close doesn't find a way to create some type of competition over the shortstop's services, this negotiation could turn out similarly to a case in 1966 when the most important player on the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers Sandy Koufax began a holdout. The Dodgers' pitcher was looking for a three-year, $1.05 million contract, so the team took a hard line.
Koufax held out and because at the time the rules didn't allow him to sign elsewhere. He was eventually forced to re-sign for far less than he was presumably worth. Certainly a lot has changed since '66, but the concept hasn't. The idea is that Jeter can hit the open market but likely won't garner $15 million for three-years anywhere else, so he'll have to fold.
Close may have to resort to using the media to his client's advantage by planting rumors, the type of tactic many have accused Scott Boras of. As of right now Close and Jeter are losing. It appears player and agent did not prepare for the team's media blitz. This week, Close admitted he was taken by surprise by the Yankees' position saying he was “baffled” that, “They continue to argue their points in the press and refuse to acknowledge Derek's total contribution to their franchise.”
Matthew Coller is a senior staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
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