Everyone knows by now that Derek Jeter is having the worst season of his career. His career OPS+ is 120 and this year it’s 95. Last year he had one of his best years, with an OPS+ of 132 and the best defensive season of his career (finally posting a positive UZR). This year his defense hasn’t been the worst of his career, but he is not a good fielder.
People often talk about how Jeter is “clutch,” and while he has posted good postseason numbers in general, when was the last time he came through in a big spot at the end of the game? When the Yankees were in Detroit a few weeks back, Jeter came up with runners on base in the 9th inning, down a run, 1-out and facing Jose Valverde. Was I thinking this is the guy we want up? No. I was just hoping he struck out and didn’t hit into a double play. Of course, he hit into a double play.
I give this example because I know many people like to say that Jeter is more than his numbers – surely, everyone has heard of Jeter’s “intangibles” by now – but I think even those supposedly unquantifiable things are no longer there.
So you get it by now: I’m not a huge Jeter fan. Obviously, his consistent on-base abilities while playing shortstop make him one of the greatest ever. He’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer. But right now he’s not very good. All that said, here is something I find immensely interesting:
AL OPS+ Leaders, SS
- Blue Jays – Alex Gonzalez: 114 (101 for Braves)
- White Sox – Alexei Ramirez: 97
- Yankees – Derek Jeter: 95
- Royals – Yuniesky Betancourt: 92
- A’s – Cliff Pennington: 91
- Indians – Asdrubal Cabrera: 91
- Twins – JJ Hardy: 88
- Red Sox – Marco Scutaro: 87
- Rangers – Elvis Andrus: 82
- Tigers – Ramon Santiago: 82
- Angels – Erick Aybar: 80
- Rays – Jason Bartlett: 80
- Mariners – Josh Wilson: 72
- Orioles – Cesar Izturis: 48
So despite having his worst year ever, Jeter is still one of the best hitting shortstops in the American League, only behind Alex Gonzalez, who had a flukey home run binge with the Blue Jays before being traded, and Alexei Ramirez, who is having a decent year but has never been a consistent OBP guy. If Jeter can bounce back even a little, he could very easily once again be clearly the best hitting shortstop in the league. I guess what it comes down to is, will Jeter simply continue to decline, or will he be able to bounce back a little? I may not be a huge Jeter fan, but I still think he is capable of at least being as good as he is now for a few years. Maybe the Yankees won’t be able to bat him 1st or 2nd anymore, but there aren’t really any other options anyways.
The reason all of this becomes so interesting is because Jeter is about to be a free agent. Joe Posnanski has been writing extensively about this, including his most recent entry. I agree with most of the points he makes, except I think he is failing to notice just how bad Jeter’s competition is. I think it’s pretty obvious that Jeter will come back to NY, if for no other reason than the Yankees don’t have any other good options. Look at that list. Again – at his worst, Jeter is still a GOOD hitting shortstop.
Last night, Rob asked via Twitter what Jeter’s next contract will look like. My guess is 3 years, $60 million. I’ve read people suggest it will be over $100 million. People have also guessed as low as $30 million. The Yankees have bargaining power because no one can afford to give an aging shortstop that much money. Jeter has leverage because he’s the face of the franchise and the Yankees don’t have any other options. 3 years at $20 million a year I think is a reasonable compromise; let’s face it after all: Jeter isn’t going to make less than AJ Burnett. 3 years is also a short enough time that the Yankees can reasonably expect Jeter to still hit enough to stay near the top of the shortstop OPS+ list. They just might not be able to bat him at the top of the order anymore (I mean, they probably shouldn’t be right now), which I suppose is an issue unto itself. But that discussion will probably have to wait until Jeter’s contract is figured out.