All right, I'll play. This little Yankee-to-Red Sox what-if game, I mean. It seems what started out as one of those fun, whimsical hot stove hypotheticals -- imagine if the Red Sox made Derek Jeter an offer? -- has morphed into something some Sox fans want.
Before such a notion -- one we hope is born out of a desire to agitate Yankees fans and not anything having to do with intelligent roster construction -- gets out of hand, let's join the chorus of realists here and emphasize two points:
1. Derek Jeter is much too aware of his legacy to ever join the Yankees' greatest rival, even if he becomes Icing-Ken-Huckaby-Level angry and vengeful at their "baffling" three-year, $45 million contract offer. No matter how much damage Yankees management does to his swollen pride and exposed ego during these negotiations, he will never return to Yankee Stadium in a opposing uniform and subject himself to chants of "JEETAH! TRAITAH!" CLAP-CLAP-CLAPCLAPCLAP. He's not going anywhere, and he's especially not going here.
2. If Theo Epstein made Jeter -- a 36-year-old sessile shortstop coming off the worst season of his career . . . a 36-year-old whose OPS has been in decline since 2006 save for an aberrational* and unprecedented 2009 bounce-back season . . . a 36-year-old who had an adjusted OPS slightly lower than Marco Scutaro's last season and one more home run than Jed Lowrie . . . a 36-year-old player who should have changed positions a half-decade ago and isn't about to do so for a new employer . . . a 36-year-old who is exactly the kind of aging player to whom you hope the Yankees will lavish with a lucrative long-term deal -- well, let's just say we'd strongly suspect Theo had dug out the ol' gorilla suit again and hit the road with Pearl Jam while Tom "Big Splash" Werner took command of the baseball ops department.
* OK, I apologize, but I can't let this go. How aberrational was Jeter's 2009 season? Only one other shortstop 35 or older in baseball history has had an OPS over .870 at age 35 or older -- Honus Wagner in 1909, 1911, and 1912. Jeter's .871 in 2009 was his second-highest OPS since 2000, when he was 26. Some might argue that confirms his greatness. It doesn't. It confirms what an outlier that season was.
In case our feelings on this are not clear -- and did we mention Jeter is 36? -- let's sum it up this way. There's a better chance of Victor Martinez playing shortstop for the Red Sox next season. There's a better chance of Edgar Renteria coming back for an encore. There's a better chance of a Don Buddin/Stan Papi platoon, presuming Jackie Gutierrez and Rey Quinones are not available. There's a better chance of the Red Sox signing Shawn Jeter and his minus-37 career OPS.
All semi-serious snark aside, you know what the best-case scenario is for Red Sox fans? What's happening right now. Jeter's desire to be compensated for his image, brand, and the player he used to be (and with a sizable dose of delusion, apparently believes he can be again) is at loggerheads with the Yankees' prudent if somewhat disingenuous refusal to pay for past performance. This is a blast to watch from afar. That it's apparently delaying their plan to present Cliff Lee with stacks and stacks of cash is just a bonus.
As much as I wish the Yankees would vastly overpay Jeter just to watch him age not so gracefully, they have all the leverage, and the three-year, $45 million offer is more than fair -- it's generous given the circumstances. It was surprising that Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner offspring were wielding that leverage so publicly . . . at least right up until the moment it became public that Jeter is looking for a longer deal in the $23-million-per-year range. It once seemed implausible that Jeter could ever lose a case in the court of public opinion in New York, but that leak with the specifics of his greed permanently spins this the Yankees' way. Turns out common sense isn't always one of his famed intangibles.
Remember, this isn't Jeter's first voyage of ego; the Yankees haven't always finished in first place in his mind when in competition with his image and brand. He should have moved to third base before the 2004 season when his best old ex-friend Alex Rodriguez, a superior defensive shortstop at the time, was acquired. And we all know that's what -- or who -- this is all about, isn't it?
It must aggravate Jeter to the point -- well, to the point that he'd ask for a raise and another nine-figure contract after the worst season of his career -- that A-Rod, that insincere Yankee carpetbagger, is set to not only make significantly more money than him going forward, but that he's likely to remain with the Yankees past the expiration date of Jeter's next deal. There is delightful irony in that Jeter, who has long had uncannily great timing to the point of being the ideal player on the ideal team at the ideal time, picked an awful to time to fade, particularly juxtaposed with the perfectly timed pre-steroids admission, pre-hip injury 10-year, $275-million (plus bonuses and incentives exceeding $30 million) jackpot A-Rod hit after the 2007 season. It is undoubtedly difficult for Jeter to swallow, but he has to realize the situation. He has no other option that makes any sense besides re-signing with the Yankees for a figure far closer to what they are offering than what he desires.
Which brings us to a lesser point that got away from us a bit here: while it's ridiculous to think there's any reason for the Red Sox to pursue Jeter other than to tweak the Yankees before his inevitable return to pinstripes, the Yankee icon that it would be legitimately fun to pursue is that great, classy, and apparently ageless closer, Mariano Rivera. There have been reports that the Yankees prefer to give him a one-year deal while he is coveting two. While Rivera has shown some minor signs of slippage himself -- his 6.8 K/9 ratio last season tied for his second-worst since 1999 -- he also had the second-best WHIP of his career (0.883). Plus, he's already helped the Red Sox win the World Series once -- sorry, couldn't resist -- and not only is he still an outs-machine, there is a very good chance that he is actually a robot.
Sure, we know Rivera, like Jeter, will end up back in pinstripes when all is settled. But if you want to daydream of one legendary Yankee making the traitorous jump to Boston, why not daydream about the one who is still, you know, good?
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.