Greater Risk: Twins and Mauer or Yankees and Jeter?

Thanks to the Clubhouse Gal for writing this amazing article in 2010 about the possibilites of Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer’s contract status.  While we all know now that Mauer signed a 10 year deal last year and Jeter signed a 3 year extension in the off-season.  This season for Joe Mauer has him sidelined with a mysterious leg ailment and Derek Jeter who started off the season cold as ice, but as of late has turned it on, caught my eye and I felt this would be an interesting read for the whatsbrewininsports.com readers.  

A couple of days ago, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote an article outlining the difficulties the New York Yankees will encounter as they work out Derek Jeter’s next contract. After reading it, I wondered out loud, or Tweeted to be more specific, which team, the Yankees or the Minnesota Twins who are attempting to extend Joe Mauer’s contract, faced a tougher task. I only got one response which isn’t surprising given that I deservedly don’t have many followers, but his answer was the Twins, without elaboration. Later, a friend and I were discussing it, and his answer was the same. He asserted that the Yankees could simply write a check and make their problems go away, whereas the Twins are forced to be much more judicious with their money. Point taken.
With all due respect, I have to disagree. Having said that, my thoughts could be diluted by the fact that I believe a contract extension for Mauer is imminent; I am convinced it will get done. So maybe I’m not letting myself fully comprehend the magnitude of the task that lies ahead for the Twins, but given that, I think they are in a slightly better spot with Mauer than the Yankees are with Jeter.
It’s hard to find two teams that go about their business more differently than the Twins and the Yankees, yet despite that, the parallels between their two face-of-the-franchise players is markedly similar. Especially when it comes to the intangibles that teams, whether they like it or not, have to consider in contract negotiations.
They are both media charmers, I mean, what’s not to like? Mauer a home town hero and Jeter an icon of New York City, arguably one of its most famous citizens. They both entered the game surrounded by a considerable amount of hype and they’ve managed to live up to it. They maintain a strong family connection and despite the glare of the constant spotlight, seem really grounded. Both are their teams’ supposed leaders, in Jeter’s case, literally the Captain. (Which bugs me; I don’t think baseball teams really need a captain, but that’s for another day.) They both have a admirable work ethics and have maintained clean images, which, especially for Jeter, is a huge deal considering baseball’s only recent emergence from the Steroid era.
Oh, and by the way, both are pretty darn good at baseball.
The term “future hall of famer” gets thrown around so often, it’s become a cliché’. But I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t consider Jeter a first ballot sure thing once he becomes eligible. He’s literally got a hand full of World Series Rings, and he was instrumental in earning all of them. I could list all of the hardware the guy has accumulated over the last decade and a half, but do I really have to? I may be making an assumption, but I’m guessing that spouting off his achievements to the people that have found their way to this blog would be a little like providing Leonardo DaVinci with a paint-by-number book. Heck, even my sister knows how accomplished he is. She saw him on Oprah once. Enough said.
The kid from Minnesota isn’t doing so bad himself. In his short time with the league, Mauer’s earned three batting titles and an MVP, all the while catching for a perennially young pitching staff. DaVinci. Paint-by-numbers. Yada yada yada.
Here’s the thing that makes the contract negotiations tough on both teams. In 2009 they both got better.
Jeter, at age 35, had one of his best defensive years at shortstop, and hit .334.
Mauer not only improved upon his previous batting averages, he added power to the mix, more than doubling his 2008 home run total.
Now what? Both of their contracts expire at the end of 2010. The Twins seem committed to get an extension in place before the season begins, they Yankees don’t appear to be taking that approach. Either way, both teams will have to find themselves writing some pretty fat checks.
Here is where I think the Yankees are at a slight disadvantage. Jeter’s age. Yes. He got better last year, but realistically how long can that last? He’ll turn 36 this season, so even a four year deal will have him playing into his 40’s. So, let’s say they do re-sign him, and he doesn’t maintain this level of play, or even worse, declines significantly. The first thought, as my friend suggested, who cares? The Yankees will just go out and buy themselves another short stop. I just don’t think, in Jeter’s case, it’s really that simple. One, he has resisted the idea of changing positions, which is not unlike Mauer, but given the patience level in NYC, a defensive deficiency will only be tolerated for so long. Two, there are some players that are, for lack of a better term, special. Would you want to be the manager that replaces Jeter at SS? Or worse, would you want to be the player that replaces Jeter at SS?
Much was made a couple of years ago after the passing of Pope John Paul II about the daunting task that would be required to fill his shoes, he wasenormously popular. On more than one occasion I heard experts allude to the fact that you don’t really want to be the one that replaces him, you want to be the one that replaces his replacement. So yeah, I figured it would be ok to throw a Pope analogy in for Jeter since the Twins have Baby Jesus, but all jokes aside, I think there’s something to that. Jeter is going to want a deal that will enable him to retire a Yankee, and who could blame him. I think it puts the Yankees in an extremely awkward place if his future performance slips significantly, and given his age, I don’t think that’s entirely unlikely.
As for Mauer, they have to sign him. Twins executives have found themselves in a perfect storm where the best player in baseball happens to have a contract about to expire just as they open a publicly funded stadium. I think most Minnesotans feel as though they owe it to us. Gone are the days where we will be content with likes of Scott Stahoviak as our first baseman. Yes it’s a lot of money, and a huge chunk of our payroll will have to be devoted to him. Will we be able to sustain the supporting cast in the not too distant future? That remains to be seen. But he’s 26, and he is getting better, which is insane. If he just maintained this level of play it would be insane. He’s taken that sweet swing and combined it with the Man Muscles that Torii Hunter promised us he’d get, to become the type of batter that even if the Twins were getting totally blown out, you’d stay an extra inning if it looks like he’d get another at bat. We deserve that, and I think we’re willing to take the chance.
With great risk comes great reward.
I could be wrong, but I suspect that if something goes wrong with Mauer over the span of a long contract, the fans in Minnesota might be willing to take some of the ownership of that failing, and to be honest, we’d kind of deserve some of it. Geeze, we all lost our collective &#*t last week when we thought that Rosen announced the contract extension. Myself included. We’ve backed the Pohlad’s into a corner. They can lose if they re-sign him, but they can’twin if they don’t.
Yankee ownership is in a similar corner, but I don’t think it’s to the same extent as the Twins, and it’s for a different reason. If they sign Jeter to a long term deal, it’s almost assuring their fan base that they will see their hero decline in front of they eyes. Given the temperament of New Yorkers, I see that as something that could eventually polarize their fans. Leave Jeter at SS past his prime, despite the fact they could probably afford someone better, or replace him with someone that will get them another championship. I think it’s pretty safe to assume he won’t be given the Bernie Williams treatment. There are some tough decisions that lie ahead for them.
A long term contract for Jeter at 35, you KNOW you’ll have to make some tough decisions. A long term contract for Mauer at 26 you MIGHT have to make some tough decisions.
That’s why I see it as slight advantage, Twins.
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Posted on May 11, 2011, in Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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