Jeter vs. the Yankees: Framing the debate

The dance between Derek Jeter and the Yankees started as a civilized and friendly waltz, but has quickly devolved into the gang fight in the video for “Beat It.”  Each side is almost taunting the other to consider a universe where Jeter is not with the Yankees.  And of course, unlike most salary negotiations which are confidential, the fight is public.

What’s fascinating is the attempt by Jeter to frame the negotiations in the most favorable light:

[A] baseball industry source said the Yankees have provided Jeter and [Agent Casey] Close with detailed statistical and market analysis to support their contract offer, including comparisons between Jeter and other shortstops and middle infielders throughout baseball.

That is the way Jeter’s last contract, the 10-year, $189 million deal that expired with the end of the 2010 World Series, was negotiated, based on Jeter’s contention and the Yankees concurrence that Jeter was the second-best shortstop in the game, behind Alex Rodriguez, who had just signed a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.

This time, the Jeter side is said to not want Jeter’s value to be judged against that of other shortstops, preferring to base his worth on his legacy as an all-time great Yankee.

This is the equivalent of staying on offense in a political campaign or a public relations battle – framing a debate to be about the issues on which your side is strongest.  And it’s hard to argue with Jeter’s place in the prestigious Yankees pantheon now – an argument he couldn’t make in 2000, after just his fifth full year in the majors.

In other words, if this “campaign” is about wanting to see Jeter continue to pursue Yankees history – such as becoming the first Yankee ever with 3,000 hits – Jeter wins the negotiations and the hearts and minds of the fans.  If the “campaign” is about the Yankees having roster flexibility, phasing out aging players, and not allowing their team to become bogged down by expensive contracts to 40-year-old players (again), then the front office wins.

Of course, the “campaign” is always about the World Series trophy for the Yankees and their fans (including me), giving the Yankees an important advantage – after all, no matter how angry fans get at the idea of Jeter walking away, a 2011 World Championship would inflict a case of mass amnesia.  So regardless of whether Jeter or the Yanks’ front office blinks first, the success or failure of this campaign, like so many others, won’t be fully appreciated until the first week of November.

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