Davidoff: Write it down; a new Jeter chapter looms
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When reporters asked Derek Jeter to assess his 2010 season minutes after the Rangers eliminated the Yankees in the American League Championship Series Friday night, the captain followed form and kept things simple:
He's right in more ways than he perhaps realized. With Jeter's 10-year, $189-million contract having reached its completion - and largely as a success, let's stress - a cultural change is coming to the Yankees.
Oh, Jeter will be back with the Yankees next season. But his reign as the emperor with no slugging percentage? That's over.
More important than the dollars and years this new deal features will be the elimination of the delicacy with which the Yankees have treated Jeter. Rather than "Derek Jeter, He Who Can Do No Wrong," he'll be a respected veteran who must acknowledge his fading abilities.
That means dropping him in the lineup if he doesn't pick up his offense in 2011. That means eventually moving him out of shortstop, although that's a secondary concern right now. He didn't hit well enough in 2010 to support a less demanding defensive position, anyway, in what marked the worst season of his major-league career.
Let's not count out Jeter altogether. It's a decent bet that he puts up better numbers in 2011 than he did in 2010. But it's a terrible wager that he'll ever come close again to the 2009 statistics that made him an AL Most Valuable Player candidate.
He's not a liability. Nor is he an immense asset.
The prediction here is that the Yankees cover Jeter on the dollars side while covering themselves on the years side. How about three years and $60 million? That way, Jeter can get paid like royalty and the Yankees can mitigate the chances of awkward tension with a completely useless version of Jeter.
Yankees ownership and management have gotten better at avoiding albatross contracts, but they still have a great deal of room for improvement. A.J. Burnett seems like a disaster, and Jorge Posada likely will spend the bulk of 2011 as a pricey designated hitter. And as much as Cliff Lee represents a cure to all that ails them, it would represent significant foolishness to commit, say, a six-year deal to a pitcher who will turn 33 in the first season of that contract.
The fans would never turn on Jeter, but they'd turn on the notion of Jeter getting playing time for the Yankees if he can't defeat Father Time. Think of Bernie Williams' 2005 season, his final campaign as the Yankees' starting centerfielder. Most fans took on a "Love the stinker, hate the stink" approach, as they cheered Williams while pleading with management to find his replacement.
The Yankees need to take the lead to make sure it never reaches that with Jeter. There's pride and then there's denial, and you wonder if Jeter appreciates the gulf between the two. His refusal to be reflective explains his greatness - dude never seems to lose confidence - but he'll be the last to acknowledge his humanity.
To reiterate, Jeter needs the Yankees more than the Yankees need Jeter. His whole brand is built on integrity and selflessness. Do you really think he'd blow that up by taking off because, in his mind, the Yankees wouldn't sufficiently kiss his World Series rings?
No, this relationship will continue, and it will have a new vibe. One that is healthier for the future success of both the organization and Jeter.
This love story between the Yankees and Jeter isn't over. It's simply time to move on to the next chapter.