Derek Jeter(notes) won the Gold Glove this year for the same reason he can snag a greatest-hits list of starlets and have his own scent of cologne and instantaneously own any room into which he walks: He oozes Jeterness.
Perhaps you have not heard of Jeterness. It is an all-encompassing and -embodying quality that amalgamates Derek Jeter's greatest attributes into one succinct air of being. It is equal parts cool, attractive, intelligent, heroic, humble and confident. Men want Jeterness. Women swoon at those who have it.
And the New York Yankees are going to lavish him for it.
Right now, for the first time in his career, Derek Jeter is a free agent, and this development is spurring a great debate. There are two sides: to pay or not to pay, a fairly black-and-white construct. Hardcore Jeter loyalists want the Yankees to open their overstuffed pocketbook and write him a blank check. Jeter realists see his age, skill set and quantifiable contributions to the team and want him back – he is, after all, the only shortstop in this free-agent class worthy of wearing Pinstripes – albeit at market price, which is a good $10 million a year less than Jeter will end up getting.
The reality hews closer to the former than the latter, and it is because of his Jeterness. Just watch. When Jeter sits atop the dais with Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi for the press conference to formally announce his signing, they will laud his leadership and warble on about how he's a winner. The best part will be when someone talks about what Jeter means to the Yankees, then doesn't bother giving actual examples, like it's some self-explanatory phenomenon.
Nah. Just Jeterness.
Jeterness, at its greatest, is quite spectacular. It is diving into the stands and making plays deep in the hole at shortstop and delivering in clutch situations during the playoffs. Jeterness also has this sick way of zombifying otherwise-rational Yankees fans into believing these singular moments of greatness somehow weave a tapestry of never-ending awesomeness, like Jeter is without fault, flaw or iota of weakness otherwise.
In the end, his Jeterness made his Gold Glove, and it makes it difficult to stomach, too. Anyone who watched a couple Yankees games this season – even the most ardent Jeter supporter – could say his defense isn't what it used to be, and what it used to be was never much more than above average. Jeter wasn't ever Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel(notes) – and those are the only players to win more than his five Gold Gloves.
So how, well into his 30s, does Jeter keep winning the award? It's a number of factors, chief among them the paucity of recognizable shortstops in the American League. As much as you'd like to think the voting bloc – managers and coaches in each league – puts thought and effort into the awards, sometimes it's as simple as which name pops into one's head first. And when you think shortstop, you think Jeter. Because, really, who else is there? Elvis Andrus(notes)? Alexei Ramirez(notes)? Jason Bartlett(notes)? All more deserving, sure, but none with nearly the Q rating.
And that is the thrust of Jeter's free agency. It's not about what he is as much as what he was, and what he was now helps define who he is. Jeter was a player worthy of a nine-figure deal: a Hall of Fame-caliber shortstop on a championship team. Those are rare, and they deserve to be paid accordingly. Once those skills diminish, however, so does Jeter's usefulness. And allowing anything beyond a modicum of emotion to infiltrate the negotiations puts the Yankees in a position to lose.
This won't be the standard golden parachute, after all. Whereas companies bestow exorbitant bonuses upon retiring executives, the deal the Yankees offer Jeter won't be for going away. He's still playing, still playing shortstop for now, and so he'll be compared with other shortstops, and with other players in his tax bracket, and if he keeps playing like he did last season, the deal will only look more grim.
Jeter will get at least three years, and though the Yankees want to talk about $15 million per year, the number should creep closer to $20 million in the end. Last season, he was one of only five players to top that benchmark, and he doesn't want to slide underneath it, not when the man to the right of him, Alex Rodriguez(notes), made nearly 50 percent more than him last year. Jeter never complained about it because he's bigger than that. You know, the Jeterness.
It does serve him well. It's easy to hate Jeter the player because he's so good. It's really, really difficult to abhor Jeter the person. He's smart. He stays out of trouble. He takes ownership of his shortcomings. He's warm. He's revered by teammates, legitimately so. He's genuine. He embodies the Yankee Way as much as Gehrig. If there's anything to dislike, it's that there's too much to like, and he sets an impossible example for the rest of us.
That's what the Yankees are up against. They want to be judicious with this contract, apply to it all the logic in the world. But they can't. This is Derek Jeter. He transcends sensibility. His Jeterness is corrosive on reason, intoxicating on emotion. And in the end, it will wear down the Yankees and charm them again just like it does everyone else.