Derek Jeter, The Rockies, and The Playoff Picture

September 14, 2010

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My Rockies were 11 games out of first place on August 22.  At the end of the day on Sunday, they had pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the division leading Padres and Giants – courtesy of a 10 game winning streak.  A loss to San Diego on Monday dropped them 2 1/2 games back – but with 17 games left in the regular season, the Rockies could once again make some noise down the stretch.

As impossible as it seems, Carlos Gonzalez has been overshadowed in recent days by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.  Tulo has reported that his wrist is now feeling completely healthy – and Tulo has provided evidence of this by hitting 9 homers in the last 11 games.  Tulo’s career has been sidetracked slightly by injuries and some slows springs, but he is going to be one of the elite shortstops in the game for years to come.

CarGo’s pursuit of the elusive triple crown also seems unlikely at this point, as a hot stretch by Albert Pujols of the Cardinals has put the home run race out of reach for CarGo – barring a Tuloesque stretch of homers.

With the playoffs in sight, we get very different pictures from the two leagues.  In the American Leagues, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Yankees, Devil Rays, Twins, and Rangers are going to the post-season – although there is a possibility that the White Sox could make some noise in the Central.  The Yankees and Devil Rays are locked in a tight battle for the division lead – the loser will be the wild card.

In the National League, the Reds are the only team that can be very comfortable at this point, holding a 7 game lead against the Cardinals.  The Phillies lead the Braves by a game in the East and the Padres lead the Giants by a half game in the West.  None of these four teams is guaranteed a playoff spot – one of them will definitely miss the playoffs, and a late surge by the Rockies could result in two of those four teams missing the post-season.  The sports world might be focused on football, but there is a lot of great baseball drama yet to unfold.

A bit of drama that will unfold after the season involves Yankees star Derek Jeter.  Although it doesn’t get the attention of A-Rod’s salary, Jeter’s 20M+ salary in 2010 is among the highest in the game.  He is a Yankees icon – accumulating more hits than any other Yankee in history.  His post-season heroics have been replayed again and again and again and again.  Jeter leaving the Yankees would be like Peyton Manning leaving the Colts.  If Jeter ends up in Boston, Yankee fans will be storming Brian Cashman’s estate with torches and pitchforks.

Jeter is a free agent at the end of this season.  How much will the Yankees need to offer him to retain his services?  Will they recognize his obvious PR value and keep him near his current salary?  Or will they realize that he’s a 36 year old player in the midst of the worst season of his career, and make an offer commensurate with those facts?  Can they expect him to bounce back in 2011 – or is 2010 the beginning of the end for Jeter?  The mid-30s are unkind to many baseball players, with marked decline in performance being a common occurence.  If Derek Jeter wasn’t Derek Jeter and was instead more of a nomad (thus not eligible for a “loyalty bonus” from his employer) how much would he get?  $6 million per year?  10?

And the interesting quirk is that since Jeter will be a type A free agent, he could draw minimal interest in free agency.  If the Yankees offer arbitration and Jeter declines it, a team signing him would need for forfeit a first round draft pick to the Yankees when they sign him.  The Mets may have been able to con the Braves into signing  a declining Tom Glavine, but I’m willing to bet that some teams paid attention and came to the realization that forfeiting first round talent for a few years of mediocre performance from a declining star is not a great deal.

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