Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why Not Call Yankees' Bluff? by Jim Henneman

Why Not Call Yankees' Bluff?
By Jim Henneman

Under normal circumstances, I would have to describe myself as believing if you have to clarify something, chances are pretty good it shouldn't have been said in the first place. Kind of like having to explain a bad joke, you understand? However, since talking about the Orioles and their relevance in the American League's Eastern Division doesn't involve normal circumstances these days, I'd like to clarify a stance taken in this space last week.
I don't think the Orioles have a reasonable chance of signing Derek Jeter. Like every other observer out there offering his two cents, I do not think there's more than a remote chance the future Hall of Fame shortstop won't find a way to kiss and make up with the Yankees. But please note the choice of the words -- "reasonable" and "remote." And don't underestimate the magnitude of the little flap between the perennial champions in waiting and their resident icon.

If you think for a New York minute an outside offer wouldn't juice up this negotiation, you're buying the same party line the Yankees are selling to everybody who would listen: Jeter needs the Yankees more than they need him. That he's not worth as much to any other team. To prove the Yankees' point, general manager Brian Cashman invited Jeter through his agent Casey Close to test the market.
For the life of me, I don't understand why somebody in the marketplace wouldn't call Cashman's bluff.  And, for the sake of relevance, I don't understand why that somebody wouldn't be the Orioles. Forget the money for a minute and ask this question: Who would you rather have at shortstop the next few years, Jeter or a Cesar Izturis clone? Then, ask this question: Would the Yankees be better with or without Jeter at shortstop? Who would you rather have as the face of the franchise -- Jeter or Alex Rodriguez? Case closed.
Look, let's not kid ourselves here, until they offer more than a hint of hope, the Orioles are going to have to overpay to get an "impact" player to join the ranks. That's why they lost Victor Martinez to the Tigers, not the $2 million difference over four years. So, if you're going to overpay somebody, why not at least give Jeter and his agent something to think about?
If it really is the almighty dollar that speaks the loudest, why not find out? It's not like the Orioles haven't overpaid in the past. Kevin Millwood was deemed worthy of a one-year, $12 million risk and the trade of a useful commodity in reliever Chris Ray.
A trade for Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett may prove to be the best option for the Orioles at shortstop for the next couple of years as they wait for Manny Machado. But would it hurt to stick their toes in the waters with Jeter and make the Yankees squirm in the process? What's the worst thing that could happen? You would have a "declining" All-Star who would not only improve the lineup but also tutor someone expected to be a franchise cornerstone. And who's to say it wouldn't be worth the gamble? Peter Angelos might have to increase the payroll more than planned, but what about the bottom line?
I'm not sure how many extra people Jeter would put in the park, but I'm sure he'd spike season ticket sales. I'm guessing he'd boost the attendance by at least 250,000, maybe more over the course of one year, which is enough to cover a substantial part of the contract.
I don't expect Jeter to jump at the first offer, but if the Orioles are going to continue to get turned down, they might as well put a legitimate offer out there and get turned down by a future Hall of Famer. Martinez would have helped the O's offense, but his addition would have done little to stir the imagination of the fan base.
One thing you can be sure of, the longer this Jeter mess festers with the Yankees, the tougher it's going to get. And if it persists, it will get to the point where both sides could be irreparably damaged. The amazing thing about this is Jeter's image is already taking a big hit in New York where his star shines brightest. The Yankees let it be known early they expected negotiations to get "messy" and it's amazing how soon after Jeter's squeaky-clean reputation started to take a beating. Even in the New York media, where he has previously been afforded Teflon coverage, his popularity rating has plummeted. He's suddenly being portrayed as a selfish, overpaid athlete with a huge ego. Just imagine, all these years we hardly ever knew you, Derek.
One thing should be noted. While he has been taking shots from the left and right, Jeter himself has not uttered one word publicly. That's what agents are for, and in that regard, Casey Close is doing his job. At least up to this point, Jeter will have no apologies to make when he finally gets a contract done. He has handled himself with the class he's always been credited for, at least until now.
For years, the Yankees have made a practice of overpaying by simply outbidding everybody, sometimes even themselves. Finally, the other 29 teams are at an advantage here. For once they have the opportunity to force the Yankees to do something they have done routinely over the years. If ever there was a win-win situation in head-to-head competition with the Yankees, it's now.
It's a chance, even if only briefly, for the Orioles to be relevant in the AL East. When is the last time anybody said that?
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Posted Nov. 29, 2010 

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