A caveat from someone lucky enough to see a lot of Derek Jeter’s career: it wasn’t all smooth for him when he started out as a professional ballplayer, either. After being chosen sixth overall in the 1992 draft, he committed 51 errors in his first minor league season and a move to left field was mulled within the New York Yankees organization.
So, he’s no stranger to fighting through a reputation or two but, my goodness: what Giancarlo Stanton did to the Miami Marlins’ first-year president on Monday, with most of Major League Baseball’s movers and shakers just a couple of floors up, was crushing; crushing in a way Jeter has seldom been crushed, not even by the analytics folks who turned hammering the all-time great’s aging defence into a cottage industry. And where was Jeter, Mr. November himself? The greatest clutch player on the greatest clutch team in history?
About two hours away from here. He let Michael Hill, president of baseball operations for the Marlins, face the press outside the media workroom. He let Michael Hill, one of the few executives, broadcasters or club ambassadors he hasn’t fired, take out the garbage. Jeter settled instead for a conference call. The Chicago White Sox dynamited their roster last winter meetings and there was general manager Rick Hahn up front, selling the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton because that’s what you do. Hal Steinbrenner was here, for Pete’s sake, and he’s never at these things. But no Jeter.
Less than an hour after the Yankees announced that they’d acquired the reigning National League most valuable player from the Marlins for second baseman Starlin Castro and minor leaguers Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers, Stanton stared at me when I asked him if he was concerned the whole thing between Jeter and himself had become personal. “Personal … why?” he asked.
Maybe it was the way he and his agent, Joel Wolfe, let it slip out that when he balked at waiving a no-trade clause to expedite pending deals to the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, he was threatened with “then we’ll keep you here for the rest of your career.” Or the limited contact he’d had with Jeter since the future Hall of Famer put a $25 million stake into the Marlins and along with majority owner Bruce Sherman are already soliciting added partners. Or the fact that he suggested the Marlins knew from the start that neither of those teams were interested. Or the way he suggested Marlins fans to “keep hope, but maybe watch the team from afar if you’re going to watch it this season;” or describing the Marlins as an “unprofessional circus at times.”
True, Stanton signed this current 13-year, $325-million extension in 2014 when Jeffrey Loria owned the team and he admitted on Monday he knew he’d be gone well before it was over. He mused about how nice it was going to be to be with a club that didn’t have a different manager or “a different direction every spring,” but here’s the thing: a guy about to go to New York hasn’t even asked Jeter what it’s like to play there – and appears to have no inclination to do so.
“I mean, what? We didn’t have a phone call or text before it went down … big deal. I mean, what’s the difference of text or whatever,” Stanton said, continuing his assessment of the relationship with Jeter. “It’s fine. Me and the Marlins aren’t a worry anymore. All the negative aspects of the media I’ve had to deal with or anything successful I’ve done is in the past. So now I can go to something positive.”
Stanton believes it was unfair that the deals with the Giants and Cardinals were made public.
“You have to let someone in my position see more of the options than just jump to the first things available or make a decision right away,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the dynamic was, you’re not going to force me to do anything regardless of the situation.”
This is not to turn Stanton into a completely sympathetic figure because he’s going to make $25 million, he is a Yankee and he seems prepared to take a de facto backseat to incumbent fan-favourite Aaron Judge. Even if Jacoby Ellsbury is dealt as expected, as long as Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Judge are with the Yankees – goodness, we haven’t even yet mentioned mega-prospect Clint Frazier – Stanton might have to cycle through as a combination designated hitter and outfielder. He’s fine with that, knowing that the Yankees have a team option on Gardner after this season. And Stanton offered an intriguing insight into why he ultimately chose the Yankees over the Giants and Cardinals, one that might bear revisiting at some point:
“I felt like I would have been putting them (the Cardinals and Giants) over the hump rather than joining a team already prepared to be there,” Stanton said. “You want to put any team over the hump, obviously … but the (Yankees) were one game away from the World Series, so I feel I can come in and help.”
Translation: I could be a franchise player and help a team get to the playoffs, but I can win right away with the Yankees.
Stanton, then, might become the most expensive ‘And One’ in baseball history but there’s no doubt the Yankees have signalled an intention to begin a new period of hegemony. The Marlins threw in $30 million to get the deal done – payable if Stanton doesn’t exercise his opt-out clause after 2020 – a further boon to the Yankees whose net payroll hit is a shade under $14 million this year which keeps them on pace for a luxury tax reset and, well, hello there Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, who are free agents at the end of the upcoming season.
As for Jeter? It’s true that the Marlins were a model of dysfunction before he stepped into this but he’s shown a remarkably ham-handed, indelicate approach. This, you think, is what it would have felt like if Jeter dropped that throw from Shane Spencer during that iconic play from the 2001 American League Division Series, instead of completing the flip to Jorge Posada. It’s like Jeremy Giambi’s slide into the plate counted after all; it’s like the guy who was so often in the right place at the right time hadn’t made that instinctive dash. A whole new ballgame for Derek Jeter, this.