Bring Back Jeter

The facts are simple. Derek Jeter and the Yankees need each other in 2011. The Yankees need Jeter because despite all the knocks against him, he still was offensively above-average at short in 2010 compared to the rest of the league. That, coupled with the fact that the Yankees do not have an obvious in house replacement (Nunez put up a line of .289/.340/.381 at Scranton which won’t get it done) and that the free agent market is pretty barren makes Jeter a must-have for 2011.

The problem is that after 2011, the Yankees might not need Jeter. It’s reasonable to assume that Jeter will regress further with the bat in 2011, putting him closer to, or below, the league average. It is also pretty safe to assume that he will collect his 3,000 hit in 2011, eliminating a milestone that the Yankees want to occur in pinstripes. Add in the fact that Eduardo Nunez will have another year of seasoning and Jose Reyes will be a free agent, and the Yankees could have very viable alternatives to Jeter in 2012.

That’s what makes this negotiation so difficult. The Yankees really have no reason to give Derek Jeter the player anymore than a two-year deal. Derek Jeter can point to a career of huge accomplishments and the fact that A-Rod got a 10-year deal as reasons for more years than that. Neither side is wrong, but how do they bridge the gap?

To me it comes down to money. The Yankees have plenty of it and they can afford to be a lot more generous with Jeter than any other team would be. I can’t imagine another team in the league would offer Jeter more than a two-year/$20 million deal right now. The Yankees can afford to be much more generous. How about starting with a two-year/$30 million deal? The Yankees can go up from there, but they should do everything in their power to keep the number of years of this deal down to 2. If they absolutely had to, they could add an option for the third year, maybe triggered if Jeter reaches 320 hits over 2011+12.

But that’s only part of the conversation the Yankees need to have with Derek. They need to make him aware of the chance that he will not be hitting first or second in the lineup next year and that he can expect to play more DH in the upcoming years than he has in the past. There is no reason to move Jeter to leftfield when Brett Gardner plays it at a gold glove level and had a better year with the bat than Jeter. The Yankees absolutely have to upgrade their bench this offseason and find someone who can play the leftside of the infield and hit at a level higher than Ramiro Pena. At this point the Yankees need to plan for Jeter to only be available for 140-150 games.

If Jeter wants four years or a guarantee that he will still leadoff, the Yankees need to walk away. It won’t be easy and they will be killed in the press, but it is the right baseball move to make.