Derek Jeter’s Postseason Legacy

October 16, 2012

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NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  Derek Jeter #2 of ...

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter broke his ankle in the 12th inning of Saturday night’s ALCS opener.  Would the ankle have remained intact if the game had gone just nine innings – or was there previous stress that would have resulted in a break at a later point?  It’s a moot point for the Yankees, as they’re without their captain.  After losing again on Sunday night, the Yankees are down 2-0 and heading to Detroit for three games.  Oh, yeah – they’ll face Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the next game.

It’s no surprise that the Yankees are down 2-0 to the Tigers.  Even with the help of steroids, they’re giving up a good 60 pounds per man across the offensive line.  With Fielder at center and Cabrera at left tackle, the Yankees D-line isn’t ever going to get a hit against Verlander.  Oh, sorry, wrong sport.  Seriously, though, those guys are huge for baseball players.  If you’re wondering which city has the best restaurants, don’t overlook Detroit.  Those guys are eating well.

Jeter’s value had been the subject of much debate over the years.  Much of the discussion has revolved around his defense.  Yankee fans will point to error total and gold gloves and say he’s a good defender.  Others will point to advanced defensive metrics which rank him mediocre or worse.

But is Jeter’s post-season offense also overrated?

We always hear that A-Rod chokes in the post-season and that Jeter shines.  Jeter’s career post-season OPS is .838.  How bad is the OPS of the legendary choker, Alex Rodriguez?  .838.  Jeter’s had some great post-season series, but he’s also had a few stinkers over the years.  However, his legacy was established early in his career, as his reputation precedes him at this point.

An argument that you might hear is that Jeter ranks highly in many career post-season statistical categories.  This is true.  He’s first in hits, runs, total bases, doubles and triples while ranking in the top five in homers, RBI, and walks.

However, let’s not overlook one big aspect of Jeter’s numbers: opportunity.  Not only has he been fortunate to play on many successful teams, but the post-season is longer than it was in the past.  Prior to division play in 1969, there were a maximum of 7 post-season games per year – The World Series.  In 1969, this jumped to 12 possible games per player before jumping to 19 in 1995.  The coin flip game now makes it possible for someone to play in 20 games during a single post-season.

Yogi Berra famously won 10 World Series titles as a member of the Yankees.  He was also on the losting side 4 times.  Her compiled 295 post-season plate appearances in 77 games – incredible numbers for his era.  Derek Jeter has 734 plate appearances in 158 post-season games.  That’s a full season of games, just in the post-season.  He has more post-season homers (20) than Reggie Jackson (18) or Babe Ruth (15), but it would be silly to argue that he was a better slugger.  Does he have more shining post-season moments than nearly anyone else?  Sure – but he also has more ordinary moments.

Jeter’s 734 post-season plate appearances are by far the most in history.  Bernie Williams is second with 545, Manny Ramirez is third with 493, Jorge Posada is 4th with 492 (anyone noticing a trend?).  In fact, only seven other players have half as many post-season at bats as Jeter.

Don’t get me wrong – Jeter has made the most of his opportunities.  But he has also been the beneficiary of a massive amount of opportunities over the years.  Jeter also is the runaway leader is strikeouts – not because he sucks, but because he’s had more opportunity to strike out.

Likewise, he’s also had more opportunity to get injured … and random chance finally got Jeter on Saturday night.

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Jeter’s Slump and Pujols’s Surge

June 29, 2012

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Derek Jeter

Is Jeter reaching the end of the road?

 Jeter’s Slump

Derek Jeter got off to a fast start this year, hitting .389 with 5 homers and 13 RBI in April.  His current average is still above .300, but a steep downward trend – a .293 batting average in May and a .238 in June (through Wednesday) – should have Yankees fans a bit concerned.  This is not a young player we’re talking about – Jeter turned 38 earlier in the week.  Even worse, he’s a middle infielder – and middle infielders rarely reach age 40 with their offensive skillset intact.  Don’t be surprised if Jeter’s offensive skills start to slip away and he turns into a .240 slap hitter.

Albert’s Surge

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 06:  Albert Pujols #5 of t...

Albert Pujols

On the other side of the coin we have Albert Pujols.  After signing a monster deal with Anaheim in the off-season, Pujols had a horrific start to the season – unable to get his average to .200 and displaying no power at all.  After hitting .217 with no homers in April, the power returned in May when Albert hit 8 homers to go along with a .263 average.  In June, the batting average has returned, with Pujols hitting .333 with 4 homers.  When (not if) he’s able to consolidate those April and May statistics, he’s going to once again be one of the most feared hitters in the game.  even with the horrible start to the year, Pujols is on pace to hit 25 homers and drive in nearly 100 runs.  A reasonably good second half could push his homer total above 30, and I’d bet that his batting average gets close to .300 by the end of the year. 

Mike Trout

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 01:  Mike Trout #27 of the ...

Mike Trout

Pujols’s teammate in Anaheim, rookie Mike Trout, is having a tremendous season.  While Bryce Harper of the Nationals has been a highly touted player since high school, Trout slipped to the 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft, partly because of New Jersey high school players having a poor track record.  By the end of the 2010 season, he had emerged as one of the top prospects in the game.  Trout put up pedestrian numbers during a brief call-up in 2011, as is common with rookies.

This year, however, Trout has been tearing it up.  he was called up on April 28th, and has been one of the best players in baseball since his call-up – and he’s just 20 years old.  He’s leading the American league in batting average and stolen bases and showing good power for his age, with 8 homers in his first 54 games.  He’s also a terrific defender in the outfield.  Some worry that Trout won’t be able to maintain his elite speed, given his body type.  However, it’s possible that he could slim down a bit, or that he’ll simply be the exception.  In any cases, Trout is still several years away from reaching his physical peak – it should be fun to watch him improve and become an even better player.  If you’re looking for an example of Trout improving, look at his strikeout rates – 28 strikeouts in 108 at bats in May and just 18 strikeouts in 104 at bats in June.

Teams to watch

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Joel Hanrahan ...

Do you know this man’s name?

It’s been an interesting start to the season, with lots of good storylines.  Here are some teams to watch in the second half.

Phillies – The Phillies are in last place in their division.  Why are we watching them?  Well, although they are nine games behind the Nationals, they are only 5 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot.  With Chase Utley back in the lineup, Ryan Howard beginning his rehab stint, and Roy Halladay not too far away, the Phillies could very easily find a way into the playoffs.

Pirates – I was still in high school the last time Pittsburgh had a winning record.  They teased their fans last year before falling apart late in the year.  They are in contention once again this year.  Although their negative run differential suggest that they aren’t as good as their record suggests, I’d love to see them emerge with a division title.

Who do I predict as the playoff teams?  In the American League, the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, and Rangers.  In the National League, the Nationals, Phillies, Cardinals, Pirates, and Giants.

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Break Up The Pirates!

July 9, 2011

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Going into play on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a tie for second place in their division, just one game behind the Brewers.

The last time the Pirates wrapped up a winning season, I was starting my senior year of high school.  The year was 1992.  George Bush (the elder) was president.  Jeffrey Dahmer had recently been sent away to prison, the original Dream Team was romping to victory in Barcelona,  and Hurricane Andrew had just smashed into Florida.  In other words, it has been a long time.

The fall of the Pirates has been due in large part to running the team on the cheap – pocketing revenue sharing money from teams like the Yankees and Red Sox without any attempt to use the money to field a competitive team.  The modus operandi for the Pirates has been to trade away talented players before they become too expensive to hang onto, and to sacrifice quality for affordability in their top draft picks.  For a team with a championship history – the team of Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, and Roberto Clemente – it’s a sad state of affairs.

The Pirates hired Clint Hurdle as their manager in the off-eason.  Hurdle had struggled through several losing season with the Rockies before breaking through and winning the pennant with the 2007 club.  He was fired after a terrible start in 2009 and replaced with Jim Tracy – who led a dramatic turnaround that led the Rockies back to the playoffs.  The irony?  Tracy was fired by the Pirates in 2007 after a failed stint with the team – and the Pirates managerial job is now held by the man who was fired in Colorado to make room for Tracy!  Although I do think the firing of Hurdle was justified (things had just run their course), I do have respect for him as a manager, and am pleased to see him doing well.

There are a lot of “feel-good” stories with Pittsburgh.  Joel Hanrahan (an Iowa kid) was beginning to run out of opportunities before being installed as the closer in Pittsburgh.  Hanrahan is 26 for 26 in save opportunities with a 1.34 ERA.  Jeff Karstens has shaved nearly 2 runs off his career ERA and stands at 2.55.  Kevin Correia posted a 5.40 ERA last year for San Diego – even with the benefit of an extremely pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  This year, he’s making a run at a 20 win season, standing at 11-6 with a 3.74 ERA (he has decisions in 17 of his 18 starts, which is nothing short of amazing). (Note: all stats are through Thursday).  I’m nominating Correia as my dark horse candidate for the Cy Young award.  If he manages to win 20 games – for the PIRATES – how can you fail to give him the award?

Around the diamond

Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup after his stint on the DL and once again is closing in on 3000 hits (if he had a two hit game after we went to the presses Friday night, then he’s already reached the milestone). 

It’s often noted that Jeter will be the first Yankee to reach 3000 hits.  This is interesting, but it really doesn’t add anything to the accomplishment.  Would Jeter’s achievement be diminished if he played for a team which already had some guys with 3000 hits in their career (the Pirates, for example)?  Of course not.  Neither, then, does the fact that he’ll be the first Yankee with 3000 hits add to the accomplishment.  If anything, it points out a bit of an oddity in baseball.  With all the superstars that have worn pinstripes, you’d think at least one of them would have racked up 3000 hits for the Yankees.  Had he stayed healthy, Lou Gehrig surely would have joined the 3000 hit club 70 years ago.  In recent decades, the Yankees have tended to acquire stars rather than develop them – and it’s almost impossible to have 3000 hits for a team unless you play nearly your entire career with them.

Albert Pujols returned to the Cardinals lineup on Wednesday night – a month ahead of schedule.  I discussed the issue with a friend of my who is a huge Cardinals fan.  He was in agreement that it would have made more sense to shut Pujols down until after the All Star break to make completely sure he’s healthy.  The benefit from a few extra games before the break isn’t worth the risk of aggravating the injury by trying to come back too early.  However, I’ll assume that the medical staff for the team knows that they are doing.

The All Star game is on Tuesday.  I absolutely love the All Star game.  I’m not much of a fan of the home run derby (too artificial) but love seeing the biggest stars in the game in the field.  I definitely agree with the sportswriters who would like to see the rosters trimmed a bit – and also agree that not every single player needs to get into the game.

Go National League!

Baseball Update

May 14, 2011

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We’re nearly at the quarter pole of the baseball season. What has happened so far?

The Phillies should be scaring the hell out of everyone.  They have the best record in baseball despite not having star second baseman Chase Utley in the lineup.  I hesitate to call a division race this early, but the other NL East teams really needed the Phillies to struggle out of the gate to have a chance.

The Cardinals lost co-ace Adam Wainwright for the season, Matt Holliday had an appendectomy early in the season, and Albert Pujols has been less than Pujolsian so far.  While Pujols has an OK, albeit low for him, homerun total (7), the rest of his numbers are well below his career numbers.  His .273 batting average is well below his career mark of .330 and he has just 3 doubles on the year.  He’s not walking very much, and he’s hitting into double plays at an alarming rate.  Whether it’s the pressure of his looming free agency, or something else, this is a very bad time for him to have the worst season of his career.  On the other hand, Holliday is batting .398 for the season and  free agent acquisition Lance Berkman is hitting .351 with 10 homers – and the Cardinals are in first place.

The Cleveland Indians have shocked everyone by recording the best record in the American League, and have a 4 game lead over the Tigers.  Bringing up the rear in the division are the White Sox and Twins.  Who could have predicted that?  The division also features the two hurlers to record no-hitters this year – Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Francisco Liriano of the Twins.

The Pirates and Red Sox have the same record.  If you predicted that at the beginning of the season, raise your hand, Mr. Liar.  The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992 (sadly, that is NOT a typo).  Can Clint Hurdle push the team to 82 wins?  I really hope so.  In spite of the fact that the Rockies pushed out Hurdle in 2009, I still wish the guy the best.

My Rockies bolted out to an 11-2 record, but have faded lately and enter play on Saturday with a record of 20-16.  Still, that’s good enough for first place, in spite of the fact that we haven’t had many contributions from ace Ubaldo Jimenez, 2010 MVP runner-up Carlos Gonzalez, or third base.  Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has alternated between red hot and ice cold.  Hopefully his 3 for 5 with homer on Friday is the sign of good things to come.  Catcher Chris Iannetta has been deceptively productive.  His batting average is just .224, but his on base percentage has been near .400 recently, and his OPS has been near .900.  Ten of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases, and he has 21 walks on the year.  Overall, I’m happy to see the Rockies in first place – but I thin they’ll need more hands on deck to hold off the hated Giants.

And speaking of hated players … I’m not at all surprised to see Derek Jeter struggling this year.  He was hitting .268 after Friday’s game, but it’s a very soft .268.  He has only two homers on the year (in the same game) and only five total extra base hits.  Jeter put up the worst numbers of his career last year, and his slow start this year has many wondering if his stats are indicative of a decline rather than a mere slump.  Jeter is a shortstop who will soon turn 37, and Father Time is generally not kind to middle infielders.  Jeter, on the other hand, can laugh all the way to the bank after signing a new contract in the off-season what is paying him roughly double what he was likely to have made as a free agent (remember, he would have been a type A free agent, meaning that the signing team would have had to sacrifice a draft pick).

White Sox Sign Adam Dunn, Red Sox Sign Adrian Gonzalez

December 7, 2010

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The Chicago White Sox signed free agent Adam Dunn to a 4 year deal worth $14 million per year.  The deal will allow Dunn to play his best defensive position – DH.  All kidding aside, I like this deal for the White Sox.   Dunn brings tremendous power, belting at least 38 homers in seven consecutive seasons.  He also walks quite a lot, transforming his lackluster .250 career batting average into a stellar .381 career on base percentage.

The knock on Dunn, of course, is his ability to strike out. He has struck out at least 164 times in every season in which he has accumulated at least 400 at bats.  That’s a huge number of strikeouts.  Unfortunately, it gets more attention than it deserves.  It would be great if he could cut down the strikeouts and hit .275 instead of .250, but the fact of the matter is that strikeouts aren’t much worse than other outs – a .250 hitter who strikes out a ton isn’t much worse than a .250 hitter who strikes out half as much.

Interesting tidbit that casual fans might not know about Dunn – he was once a backup quarterback at the University of Texas.

On the other side of the sock drawer, the crimson hose traded for Padres first baseman Adrian Gonazalez.  Gonzalez is a player who would be one of the most underrated players in the game, if not for media attention that has focused on how underrated he is (oh sweet irony!).  In spite of playing in a park that depresses offensive numbers for hitters, Gonazlez has emerged as one of the leading power hitters in the game – hitting 30+ home runs in each of the past four seasons.  A switch to hitter-friendly Fenway Park should certainly boost his offensive stats.  Gonzalez is also a two time Gold Glove award winner for his defensive play.

I do urge people to take one thing into account with Gonzalez.  While his career road numbers are much better than his career home numbers (.943 OPS vs .800 OPS), this isn’t entirely the effect of Petco Park.  Due to baseball’s unbalanced schedule, Gonzalez has played a disproportionate number of road games in Colorado and Arizona – home to two of the best hitter’s parks in baseball.  This will have a tendency to prop up his road stats a bit.  It’s dangerous to use raw road stats when making comparisons.  My article on park effects is also applicable to this discussion.

Derek Jeter and the Yankees finally called off their game of chicken, with Jeter signing a deal that will pay him $51 million over the next three years, with a complex points-based player option for the 2014 season.  This is much more money than Jeter is really worth at this stage in his career (most players tend to see their skills erode as his age – a sad fact of growing older) but is much less than the $23 million per year that Jeter was reportedly seeking.

On the gridiron, the Denver Broncos bucked Josh McDaniels from his saddle.  McDaniels took over the reigns at the beginning on the 2009 season.  He quickly jettisoned a digruntled Jay Cutler (hey, would YOU be gruntled if there were rumors that the new coach was trying to acquire Matt Cassel to replace you?) and replacing him with Kyle Orton.  J-Mac roared out to a 6-0 start, and many glasses of Coors were held aloft to toast the genius.

The bottom fell out quickly.  The 2009 Broncos lost four straight games after their undefeated start and finished 8-8.  In 2010, the Broncos stand at 3-9 and also found themselves embroiled a controversy involved the unauthorized videotaping of an opponent’s practice session.

Kosmo On Sports

November 30, 2010

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Iowa State wrapped up their football season with a disappointing loss against Missouri on November 20 and ended the season at 5-7.  At the beginning of the season, I figured that five wins would be a best case scenario, given the difficulty of the schedule (non-conference games against Iowa and Utah and road tilts against Texas and Oklahoma).  As it stands, we ended up with five wins, and I’m disappointed that we didn’t catch a couple of breaks that could have gotten us a couple more wins.  Mark my word, we’re going back to a bowl game next year.

Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney, currently the defensive line coach for Urban Meyer at Florida, will be the new head coach at North Texas.  McCarney had a 56-85 record with the Cyclones, but the overall wins and losses don’t do justice to the work Mac did to build the program.  Iowa State was fresh off an 0-10-1 season when McCarney took the reigns from Jim Walden.  In Walden’s seven seasons and head coach, the Cyclones mustered a winning record just once (6-5 in 1989).  After just ten total wins in the first four seasons under McCarney, Iowa State burst onto the national scene in 2000 with a nine win season – and the first bowl appearance since 1978.  In a six year span between 2000 and 2005, the Cyclones played in five bowl games.  After a 4-8 season in 2006, McCarney was fired.  That night, I sent a short email thanking him for everything he had done for the program.  McCarney, in the process of cleaning out his office and figuring out what his next career move was, took a moment to reply.

My wife’s favorite NFL team, the St. Louis Rams, find themselves in contention for a playoff berth.  At 5-6, they are tied for first place in a mediocre NFC West.  Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford is leading the way with a successful debut season – 17 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions.  No 7-9 team has ever made the playoffs – but it  could happen this year.  In any case, the season has been a big step forward for a team that had just one win last year.  At the beginning of the season, I wondered if the Rams wouldn’t have been better off to trade star running back Steven Jackson in an effort to plug multiple holes … but it seems that the Rams have found a way to get to the next level without sacrificing their best player.

The Yankees and shortstop Derek Jeter are reportedly far apart in negotiations.  It’s an odd case.  On paper, the Yankees would seem to hold all the cards.  Jeter is coming off a very poor season, and at at 36, is at an age when a decline in abilities is expected.  Barry Bonds aside, players generally do not improve their statistics in the waning years of their careers.  Additionally, Jeter is a type A free agent, meaning that teams would have to sacrifice a first round pick to sign him.  At this point, I think many teams see the folly in signing an aging type A player.  The Braves signed Tom Glavine as a type A player after the 2007 season.  It ended up being a bad signing, with Glavine giving limited value to the Braves, while at the same time, the Braves handed the division rival Mets Ike Davis on a silver platter (the Mets drafted Davis with a pick they were awarded as compensation for the Glavine signing).  On the flip side, Jeter is a Yankee icon, and there is fear on backlash from the fans if they front office fails to ensure that he finishes his career in pinstripes.  What am I hoping for?  I hope the Yankees massively overpay Jeter.  More money for Jeter means less money for players who could actually contribute to the team in the future.

On Monday night, my Colorado Rockies extended the contract of Troy Tulowitzki, adding six years and $119 million to his existing deal.  He had been signed through 2013, with a club option for the 2014 season.  Tulo is now signed through the 2020 season.  While I’m glad to know that the Yankees or Red Sox won’t be snapping up Tulo as a free agent any time soon, lengthy contracts can be worrisome in baseball, where the money is guaranteed.  The deal should serve to put a ceiling on Jeter’s contract.  It would be difficult to argue that a Jeter approaching 40 is worth more than Tulo in his prime.

In a recent edition of Sports Illustrated, I saw some ads for the publication’s annual swimsuit edition, which is now a multimedia experience – not just the magazine, but a calendar, video, and more.  It made me wonder how much of SI’s revenue comes from swimsuit model and how much comes from the coverage of sports?  My favorite sports publication, Sports Weekly, doesn’t have a swimsuit edition, or anything even close to it.  That’s probably a good thing – I really have no interest in seeing Paul White in a Speedo.

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.