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February 12, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

The Derek Jeter Signing

by Joe Sheehan

Over the weekend, Derek Jeter and the Yankees reached agreement on a ten-year, $189-million contract that makes him the game's second-highest player and likely cements his status as a career-long Yankee. The deal slots him about where he should be, among the highest-paid players in the game, but behind Alex Rodriguez and in a position to be passed by some better players, like Vladimir Guerrero, Nomar Garciaparra and perhaps Andruw Jones, who are all nearing the time when their salaries will reflect their market value.

The signing has sparked a discussion of Jeter's value, specifically about whether he's as good a player as the other two great shortstops in the AL. Look, Derek Jeter is a tremendous talent who has been an integral part of four world champions. But only his best season, 1999, ranks with the established level of Garciaparra and Rodriguez. He doesn't hit for the power the others do, and the available evidence suggests that he is not a good defensive player. (Rob Neyer has devoted a couple of pieces to this on ESPN.com, ones I highly recommend.)

The perception of Jeter as the equal of or superior to his shortstop counterparts stems in large part from his exposure to a national audience every October. Jeter has played, and played well, in four of the last five World Series. That goes a long way towards establishing someone as a star of the highest magnitude. What it doesn't do is mean that Jeter is better than Rodriguez or Garciaparra simply for having played on better teams; his performance in the regular season just doesn't measure up to what the other two players have done.

One of the places where these debates go awry is when pointing out any negatives about a player is called an attack, or the product of a bias or an agenda of some sort. Saying that Derek Jeter isn't as good as Alex Rodriguez, or that he's been fortunate to play in New York during a good run for the Yankees, or that he's not a top-notch glove man brings out a wave of criticism of that viewpoint. It's a talk-radio mentality, I guess, and one BP has probably had its part in fostering. Temperate opinions have never been our strong suit, although we've worked on that over the past few years.

But attacking a reasoned viewpoint for perceived bias doesn't advance the discussion. Saying Player X has certain weak spots or isn't as good as Player Y doesn't mean someone has it in for that player. There's plenty of room between fawning fandom and vicious slamming, and that's where the discussion of Jeter falls. He's a great player on a Hall of Fame track, and is being paid commensurate with his ability and available revenues.

The other point of contention is that the Jeter signing is just another example of the Yankees doing whatever they want, using their massive advantage in revenues to fund a dynasty. I've conceded, in different fora (including the last two editions of Baseball Prospectus), that the Yankees' revenue stream may afford them a competitive advantage. That said, I think two points get lost, and they're worth mentioning here:

  • George Steinbrenner plows those revenues into the team. While there are some owners with capitalization issues, there are others, most notably Carl Pohlad with the Twins, who would rather cry poverty than invest in winning. Steinbrenner is to be commended for doing what businessmen worldwide are expected to do: invest in their product.

  • The Yankees are an extreme outlier, and therefore present a complex problem that the one-size-fits-all solutions popular among some fans and media aren't going to solve.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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