So Derek Jeter(notes) and the New York Yankees finally came together for a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. My thinking was that it would put a smiley, happy bow on the last few contentious weeks of contract negotiations. Then, once it was over, everyone could move on and act like the soap opera had never happened. Case closed, bring on 2011.
But it didn't happen that way. As Tom Verducci astutely noted on MLB Network, "there was a cost to these negotiations" and that price was evident as soon as Jeter took the floor at the Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa. After making an awkward reference to being "one big happy family" again, Jeter used his first forum since signing the reported three-year, $51 million deal to say that he wasn't pleased with how the process played out. Jeter, from his press conference (via the LoHud Yankees Blog):
"I was pretty angry about it, but I let that be known," Jeter said. "I was angry about it because I was the one that said I didn't want to do it, that I wasn't going to (test the market). To hear the organization tell me to go shop it when I just told you I wasn't going to, if I'm going to be honest, I was angry about it."
While some of Jeter's ire seemed targeted toward New York's tabloid media for portraying him as money hungry and selfish, there was no mistaking that a few of his comments were aimed at the members of the Yankees brass sitting beside him.
"I never wanted to be a free agent," said Jeter in his most simple and pointed statement of the day.
There's a part of me that feels compelled to point out that being a pinstriped company man is part of the reason Jeter is getting paid quite a premium to play a declining shortstop into his late 30s. After being handed $50 million (after being paid a previous $200 million), Jeter should have smiled and offered to drive down Florida's I-4 to put on a big hugging and kissing show in Orlando at the winter meetings.
After all, taking money from the Steinbrenner-run Yankees has always meant swallowing your pride at some point and Jeter should have done the same, right?
At the same time, I like that Jeter used this opportunity to shine a light on a process that should have never gotten this far. The Steinbrenner Yankees are famous for never offering contract extensions before the previous deals are done and it was that policy that drove both camps into an unnecessary us-against-them battle when it was always clear that Jeter was never going to play for any other team and that they'd end up together again.
"It all started with my (reported) salary demands, which still cracks me up," he said. "What position am I in to demand a salary? Give me this, or what? Where am I going?"
Exactly. Though everyone understands that all negotiations involve a certain element of tug-of-war, Jeter's side and the Yankees could have been doing their back-and-forth toward their one true outcome during the season — under the blinding cover of one game a day and other controversies headlined by players like A.J. Burnett(notes) or Javier Vazquez(notes).
Instead, they chose to wait until November, when Jeter's contract status was the only show in town and every leaked crack from either side was sure to be splashed across the back of the New York Post and Daily News each morning. They waited until blogs had no other fodder and the only way for baseball fans to pass the time was to photoshop Jeter into the uniforms of every other team. The carnival would have happened had they taken three days or three weeks to get this thing done.
For a guy who's always successfully kept his pristine image away from the controversy of baseball's exorbitant salaries — ask yourself if A-Rod's $250 million deal was ever that much more offensive than Jeter's $189 million contract — this completely avoidable circus had to be annoying. Especially if he thought he was the type of player that should have proven an exception to the Yankees' stubborn no-extension rule.
And so I can't blame Jeter for saying what he had to say before saying he's happy with his contract ("If I wasn't, I wouldn't have signed it," he said) and pledging to start working toward World Series title No. 28 next year.
To paraphrase a famous malcontent clerk, he shouldn't have even been there today.