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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.