Is a second city in Jeter's future?

11-time All-Star could be calling new place home

November 28, 2010|By Phil Rogers, Tribune Newspapers

The silence around baseball regarding those suddenly and unexpectedly available has been deafening.

The Yankees have won five World Series with Derek Jeter, but now that he's 36 with long-haul contributors such as Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez on his flank, they seem to think they can live without him.

Perhaps that's because they are on the verge of signing Cliff Lee to a contract that could pay more per season than the $23 million CC Sabathia makes, and maybe they're figuring how strong they would be with a first base-DH tandem of Albert Pujols and Teixeira.

Maybe the management cabal of Brian Cashman, Randy Levine and the Steinbrenners really felt Jeter was so content in New York that he happily would take a three-year, $45 million offer, even though it was less than half what Rodriguez received when he was one year younger than Jeter is now. Or maybe the Yankees didn't think there was a team with the audacity to gamble on the closing chapters of Jeter's career.

With the winter meetings a little more than a week away, we're about to find out if anyone is bold or crazy enough to give Jeter an upper hand in the negotiations that turned ugly when Cashman said the Yankees encouraged the 11-time All-Star "to test the market and see if there's something he would prefer.''

There's no question Jeter's skills are declining. His .270 batting average in 2010 was his lowest since he was promoted to play 15 games in 1995. But in 2009 he hit .334, his second-best average in a decade, and two of his three highest rankings in MVP votes came in the last four years. His .340 on-base percentage ranked sixth among the 22 shortstops who qualified for the batting titles, and his Mensa-level instincts earned him his fifth Gold Glove as he helped the Yankees reach the championship series for the ninth time in his 15 seasons.

"What?'' one former big-league player asked the New York Daily News' Mike Lupica. "He has one bad year and now it's going to be straight downhill from here?"

Jeter still could help a lot of teams, including the two in Chicago, not to mention he's only 74 hits away from 3,000 and is sure to sell a lot of tickets.

These teams must be at least discussing Jeter:

Red Sox: Wouldn't this be delicious? They have two shortstops now but have been listening to offers for Marco Scutaro. Jeter could fit at shortstop for at least one or two more years, with Jed Lowrie understudying him. Then he could move to left field with the limited acreage at Fenway Park assisting in the transition once it's time to hand short to Lowrie or Jose Iglesias. He would be a great fit playing for Terry Francona and alongside gamers such as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

Cardinals: Shortstop is wide open, as is the question of whether Pujols is going to stay beyond 2011. GM John Mozeliak needs to figure out his best offer to Pujols, then see if it will keep him. If not, signing Jeter for four years would make sense. They could chase one more championship with Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Tony La Russa, and then Jeter would join Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday in keeping the them competitive post-Pujols.

Giants: The World Series champs aren't bringing back Edgar Renteria. They could use some of their October money to import Jeter, whose skills fit nicely on a team built to win low-run games.

Orioles: Jeter began his career playing for manager Buck Showalter. His addition would go a long way toward restoring the credibility of a franchise that big-name free agents now shun.

Twins: Because the Twins can't beat Jeter, maybe they can sign him. The Twins aren't crazy about J.J. Hardy, which is why they have negotiated for the rights to talk contract with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the .346-hitting shortstop of the Chiba Lotte Marines, and have had preliminary talks with the Red Sox about Scutaro.

Angels: Erick Aybar is reaching the point of his career when his salary is starting to outdistance his value. Jeter would fit in well as the Angels try to get back their mojo in an improved division. They're making a strong play for Carl Crawford, but imagine if they got Crawford and Jeter.

Cubs: With 20-year-old Starlin Castro looking like a rising star, Jeter doesn't fit at short. But he could add class at third base, allowing Aramis Ramirez to be traded (Red Sox if Adrian Beltre leaves?) or moved to first base. Unfortunately for the Cubs, the four years left on Alfonso Soriano's contract more than likely precludes them from gambling on Soriano's old double-play partner.

White Sox: Realistically there's little chance they will get Jeter, but the fit shouldn't be discounted out of hand. Alexei Ramirez, like Castro, is a rising star. But his original four-year deal ends in 2011, and he will become an expensive proposition starting in '12. If the White Sox signed Jeter, they could make a series of moves that would give them a chance to win in '11 and '12, the last seasons they could have their strong rotation in place.

Ramirez could be dealt, quite possibly to the Yankees along with a bad contract or two (Mark Teahen or Scott Linebrink and catching prospect Tyler Flowers) for Curtis Granderson and possibly one of the Yankees' two advanced catching prospects. Then the White Sox could explore another deal that has been discussed — Carlos Quentin to the Phillies for Raul Ibanez. That would give them an outfield of Juan Pierre, Granderson and Alex Rios, with Ibanez providing a Plan B if Dayan Viciedo doesn't grab first base.

progers@tribune.com

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