On last night’s Yankee Hot Stove on the Yes Network, Brian Cashman was asked about Derek Jeter’s value to the club when not between the lines, and the phrase quoted in the title was his response. The off-field value question is at the crux of the Jeter contract situation, as Derek clearly is no longer a 20 million dollar a year player based on his performance. As such, any premium that he gets over 8-10 million dollars will represent payment for his status as a long-time Yankee who is a fan favorite and an icon. Although I have yet to see a convincing study that shows that the club can in fact monetize that status to the tune of millions of dollars annually, I am willing to accept that there is some value there, particularly in terms of maintaining a goodwill relationship with Yankees fans.
That said, Brian Cashman is absolutely right to dismiss off-the-field value when talking about “his world.” Brian Cashman’s job is not to maximize profits, but to maximize victories based on the budget that he is given. As such, he needs to focus solely on baseball impact when considering a contract offer for any player, no matter what their off-the-field status. By the same token, it is the job of the owner and other team executives focused on the bottom line to interject in the case of a player like Jeter. They need to work with Brian to determine exactly what Derek’s off-the-field value is, and craft an offer that they believe fairly compensates Jeter for both his baseball prowess and his marketing value. It is no coincidence that Brian Cashman went to meet Cliff Lee alone, but was accompanied by Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to meet with Jeter.
Joel Sherman raised a similar point in his column this morning, in which he discussed how the Yankees might treat Jeter this coming season if he shows further decline:
This is a baseball team, not a fan club or an alumni association. Realistic discussions of Jeter are too often scuttled with his intangibles or his class or his history. That is all nice. But what do they have to do with winning games from 2011 forward? If you are honoring those elements with unquestioned playing time or a spot atop the order, you have lost what Jeter himself claims he is all about, which is team and winning.
At this moment, Jeter is the best realistic option to play shortstop for the 2011 Yankees. We are now done with the sure things. All else should be open for discussion and adaptation based on what is seen today, not on a highlight reel from 1999. There must be new Jeter Rules that are immune to emotional ties. He will get the money for how the fan base feels about him.
Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi need to treat Derek Jeter like a baseball player and ignore everything else. Their job is to put the best product on the field. Iconic, off-the-field value should not translate in their world.