Thursday, November 4, 2010

Derek Jeter, Big Papi and "Old Player Skills"

As the hot stove warms, two teams are in a position to make some tough calls, specifically the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Both are attempting to navigate a tricky situation with the face of their franchise. "The Captain," Derek Jeter, is a free agent and technically has the right to to to whatever team he wishes. David Ortiz, or "Big Papi" as he's referred, wanted a multi-year contract extension rather than the Red Sox picking up their option on retaining him for only 2011. One team has already made their move. Was it the right one and how is the other team's situation different despite the similarities?

The Red Sox acted decisively, making their decision on Ortiz today, the 4th of November. While Ortiz was seeking the long-term security of a multi-year extension, Boston took the conservative approach by exercising their club option on him, which locks him up for 2011 season for the nominal fee of $12.9 million dollars (I was kidding about it being nominal). They did this for a few reasons. First of all, Ortiz has gotten off to shaky starts the last two years, showing his age and declining ability to hit left-handed pitching. Big Papi is 34 and in case you haven't noticed, isn't exactly the finest athletic specimen on the face of the earth. Also factoring into the Sox's decision, Ortiz doesn't play a defensive position since he's a DH only. Therefore, he only has value with the bat and doesn't contribute to the team's defensive achievement.

Derek Jeter is hoping to stay a member of the New York Yankees. Its hard to imagine The Captain wearing anything but pinstripes since he is has been the face of the Yankee franchise for over a decade. Jeter is currently 36 years old but still holds his own at shortstop defensively. He no longer turning heads at the position but he's still quite serviceable. With the bat, Jeter had a down year but not a horrible one. His OBP remains good and he has high quality at-bats nearly every time he's up at the dish. He's hoping for a multi-year contract offer from the Yankees who claim to want to re-sign him, but the price doesn't seem likely to fit the product. Jeter will be 37 next year and that is a tough age to play shortstop. Moving to third base isn't an option (see Alex Rodriguez) and going to second isn't either (Robinson Cano, anyone?). So herein lies the problem: Jeter is still a serviceable player who is vital to his team and community, but is losing value as he ages despite his high salary.

As concluded by Bill James, the "Old Player Skillset" is: power, walks, low average, lack of speed. This fits David Ortiz perfectly. In my opinion, he's an injury or really bad season away from losing his value to anyone, not just the Red Sox. Sure he clubbed 32 homeruns last year, but that was after he played terribly through the first two months of the season. In the A.L. East, you can't have a bad two months from your best power hitter and hope to contend. There's simply too much firepower in that division. Because of this, and the fact that no one else would be willing to pay Ortiz $12-15 million a season, Boston did the right thing by exercising Ortiz's option and not giving him a three year deal that would have kept him with the team until he was nearly 38 years old. Keeping it year-by-year with Big Papi allows the Red Sox to cut him loose whenever they see fit without losing a ton of money on him.

The Yankees almost have to re-sign Jeter. That goes both ways, though. Jeter isn't worth nearly what he'll earn with New York and no one else is looking to give a three year deal to a 36 year old shortstop. Derek's salary last season was a whopping $22 million. Considering he put up roughly the same season as several slightly-above average shortstops, that's about three or four times what his performance dictates. This is a different situation, though, from Ortiz's. Jeter should get an extension, just not a huge one. He's a big part of the clubhouse, he's "Captain Clutch" with big hits, he can still do his job defensively and he is still worthy of his time at bat. He also sells jerseys and tickets as the ultimate emblem of the most popular sports franchise in the world. As long as Derek's alright with taking a bit of a pay cut, he will likely be rewarded with something in the neighborhood of 3-4 years and $55-75 million or less. Despite overpaying big time, the Yankees can afford it.

David Ortiz clearly has "Old Player Skills" and could nosedive at any moment. Sure he's the biggest power threat for the Red Sox but he doesn't play defense and has a body that doesn't project to age well. Honestly, I'm surprised he's held up as well as he has. Jeter, on the other hand, is worthy of more contract time since he's the leader of his team, plays solid, but not incredible, defense and can still handle the bat sufficiently. "Old Player Skills" haven't hit The Captain just yet and I don't think they will. The Red Sox were right to pick up their option on Ortiz and go year-by-year with him while the Yankees should give Jeter a few more years, just not at his current salary.

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