What is Derek Jeter worth?

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This is a confusing time to be a capitalist.

 

America was built on the idea that enterprise should be free
and unfettered. That people should be allowed to charge what they like for what
they supplied, on the grounds that market forces would ensure it was a fair
price.

 

It is, has always been, and will ever be thus, and America
likes it that way. Indeed, the slightest notion of trying to redistribute some
wealth down from the highest earners to the lowest, is met by howls of protest
and cries of “socialism!!” or even “communist!” Just ask President Obama how
much fun that has been over the last 12 months.

 

Jeter$.jpg

And yet that treasured national ideology is defenestrated
when it comes to sportsmen trying to negotiate employment contracts. Socialism
runs amok in the minds of sports fans all over the country when they read that
Derek Jeter is at an impasse in his contract negotiations with the Yankees, and
moral indignation runs high.

 

As of right now, the tactically leaked facts of the matter
are that the Yankees have offered Jeter $15m per year for three years, whereas
Jeter is looking for something in the neighborhood of $24m per year for 4-5
years. Last week, Jeter’s agent Casey Close declared himself “baffled” at the
Yankees’ stance, specifically their apparent willingness to factor in Jeter’s
“body of work” during his 16 seasons as a Yankee and unwillingness to raise
their offer even a little.

 

On hearing Close’s comment, hospitals were soon on high
alert to cope with 911 calls from people who had fallen off their chairs,
choked or were suffocating from laughing too hard. He wants how much? Indeed, Jeter’s asking price
is about 100% more than anyone of his age and current skills could even dream of
getting in the open market. His career-low .270 average and .340 on-base
percentage, coupled with a declining range in the field firmly convinced his
employers that they need no longer pay him as a superstar because…well, he no
longer plays at a superstar level.

 

If Jeter had this statistically poor year aged 30 or less,
the Yankees would probably agree it was an aberration and come close to
ignoring it when making an offer. But Jeter isn’t 30 or less, he’s 36 – almost everybody has a discernible decline in
athletic performance by that age, and most athletes are no longer athletes by
then. Jeter is a physical specimen no doubt, but he’s no immortal and may need
a little help to fully comprehend that unfortunate truth.

 

His agent, behind closed doors, has no doubt complained that
his reduced performance in 2010 was an aberration and not part of a performance
downturn, and that the Yankees should also factor in what he means to the
organization and the additional money they can make when he gets his 3,000th
career hit, which he would likely accomplish before the All-Star break next
year.

 

The problem for Close is that the Yankees already did that
when they offered his client $15m. Florida’s Hanley Ramirez is arguably the
best shortstop in either league, and earns $11m. Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies
is at least as productive as Jeter overall and earns less than $9m.

 

As Yankees GM Brian Cashman put it, “We understand his
contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account. 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”.

 

Part of the problem of course is A-Rod’s contract. The
Yankees third baseman was given a $27.5m per year contract, for ten years, at age 32 and Jeter may
be looking to that as a precedent that should benefit him. But that contract
isn’t a precedent, it’s just dumb, as the Yankees bid entirely against
themselves and got locked into a guy who just three years into that deal, is
showing signs of slowing down.

 

So the public response to Jeter has been more-or-less
unified, as the Yankees have (perhaps for the first time in living memory) been
seen as occupying the moral high ground.

 

That’s what is so silly about all of this – that the word
“moral” could even be used. What is Jeter? Merely a supplier of services trying
to secure as much money as possible for what he supplies. He is a free agent,
beholden to no-one, and this is not the NFL where under-contract players almost
routinely go on strike mid-contract if they think they should have been given a
raise. Neither he nor the Yankees owe each other anything – neither has to be
in this negotiation process at all.

 

Yet Jeter has come under fire for behaving inappropriately
given the economic crisis we are still in, and people vent that he should be
falling over himself with gratitude at the Yankees offer, given so many of the
fans themselves have no job at all.

 

Why?

 

It’s not like the difference between Jeter’s $24m asking
price and the Yankees $15m offer has been earmarked for a local hospital.
No-one’s planning a mission trip to Africa with $9m of the Steinbrenner family
fortune. If they don’t give it to Jeter, they will spend it on other players,
or keep it.

 

Jeter is doing no more and no less than living out the great
American dream: carving out as big a piece of land as he can for himself while
he has opportunity. You can criticize the notion of the American dream, you can
shake your head at society’s idolizing of sports, and you can laugh (it would
be strange not to) at Jeter’s delusional negotiating stance.

 

But unless you are a devoted socialist (and that’s a long way left of Obama’s position, by
the way), you really can’t morally object to what Jeter is doing.

 

Jeter is worth whatever the Yankees end up paying him. And
if they don’t end up paying him, then he isn’t worth it.

 

“That’s the way it works.”

 

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