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Monday, October 9, 2006
Trade Jeter, not A-Rod

By Jim Caple
Page 2

Enough is enough. Just reaching the postseason might qualify as success in smaller markets such as Minnesota or Los Angeles, but not in New York. The world's greatest team has such lofty standards that even winning the World Series is a disappointment if it takes more than five games.

Derek Jeter
Jeter's great, but the Yanks might be better off without him.
So, after two consecutive embarrassing first-round knockouts, three consecutive autumns without a World Series and six without a world championship, it's time for a major change. The Yankees are old. Each year, they get knocked out earlier (World Series in 2003, ALCS in 2004, fifth game of AL Division Series in 2005, fourth game of division series in 2006). A losing culture is slowly taking root in the clubhouse. If New York is to win another World Series before Yankee Stadium is torn down, owner George Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman must take a bold step that will return the team to glory. Firing Joe Torre isn't the answer. They need to end the clubhouse soap opera that is ripping the team apart.

They need to address their glaring problem at third base.

And the best way to do that is by trading Derek Jeter and moving A-Rod back to short.

Oh, I know, I know. Conventional wisdom is that Jeter is a proven winner while Alex Rodriguez is the cause of every problem up to and including the North Korea nuclear test.

"What did A-Rod do about Korea? Nothing. Now Jeets is going to have fly around the world backward until he reverses the world's orbit and turns back time to prevent it.''

It's all nonsense. If one of these guys has to go, here are six reasons it makes more sense for the Yankees to trade Jeter instead of A-Rod.

1. A-Rod is the better player.
As good as Jeter is, he has hit even half as many home runs as A-Rod only twice. He never has driven in as many runs. True, that's partially a function of where each bats in the lineup, but there's also this: Only four times has Jeter scored more runs, had a higher on-base percentage or stolen more bases than A-Rod. He never has had a higher slugging percentage. He only once has had a higher OPS. Even this year, in what was supposedly a terrible season for A-Rod and an MVP season for Jeter, Rodriguez scored just five fewer runs, hit 21 more home runs, drove in 24 more runs, had a higher slugging percentage and had a higher OPS.

He's also the better fielder at shortstop.

Right, right. Jeter is a better clutch hitter. No argument there. He's Mr. October and Mr. November, and A-Rod was awful in the division series the past two years. But Rodriguez hit .421 in the 2004 AL Division Series. And in that infamous 2004 ALCS, A-Rod had a higher batting average, a higher on-base percentage, a higher slugging percentage, a higher OPS, more runs and more home runs than Jeter, and as many RBI. Hell, A-Rod might have wound up as Mr. October 2004 if Mariano Rivera could have held a lead.

Alex Rodriguez
Wouldn't it be strange to see A-Rod playing short for the Yanks?
2. Jeter has more trade value.
The Yankees can't make the necessary trades for pitching without giving up something of value. That's why trading Jeter makes more sense.

As great a player as he is, A-Rod clearly has an image problem right now. Too many teams will be scared off by his reputation to offer New York full value in a trade. Jeter, on the other hand, carries no such baggage. He is considered the consummate professional, a true team player, the sort of leader who could take a team to the next level. Teams will overpay to get him.

Just as importantly, this is the time to make the trade. Coming off what might be his first MVP season, Jeter never again will command as much in a trade. He'll be 33 next year. Sure, he has plenty of good seasons left, but as Branch Rickey said, it's better to trade a player too early than too late.

3. Jeter is a year older.
Not only is A-Rod better, he's a year younger. A one-year difference might not sound like much, but it can be huge in sports. For athletes, a year difference in your 30s is as significant as when you're a sophomore boy in high school and you want to ask out a junior. The older players get, the worse they get. All things being equal (and they aren't in this case), always go with the younger player.

4. Jeter is more expensive.
Yes, Rodriguez is the highest-paid player in baseball, but don't forget that Rangers owner Tom Hicks, in all his wisdom, agreed to pay $67 million of A-Rod's contract as part of the 2004 trade. That means the Yankees are paying A-Rod less than Jeter. In fact, if the Yankees hold on to both players until their contracts expire after the 2010 season, they actually will pay A-Rod $14 million less than Jeter.

Sure, it might seem as though the Yankees have unlimited resources, but even Microsoft occasionally lays off employees. And $14 million could pay for a pretty good middle reliever.

5. Jeter doesn't provide the leadership needed.
Jeter gets a lot of credit for his leadership, but where was he when the A-Rod soap opera was plaguing the Yankees this season? As the team leader, Jeter could have -- and more importantly, should have -- put an end to the fans booing and the media carping by walking up to A-Rod in the clubhouse after a tough game, putting his arm around his shoulder and simply reciting his stats until every reporter and fan got the message.

Derek Jeter
Picture him in another uniform ...
"He's already hit more home runs than Joe DiMaggio. He has a higher batting average than Mickey Mantle. A higher slugging percentage than Reggie Jackson. He has almost 250 stolen bases. He has two MVPs, 10 All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves and a batting title. And you think having him on our team is more of a problem than our pitching?"

Instead, Jeter did nothing. He supported Jason Giambi during the BALCO mess, but he let A-Rod twist in the wind. Wouldn't A-Rod and the Yankees have been better if Jeter had helped lessen the pressure on his teammate? "My job as a player is not to tell the fans what to do," Jeter replied when Tom Verducci asked why he didn't stand up for his teammate. "My job is not to tell the media what to write about."

This is leadership?

No one is saying Jeter has to like A-Rod, but geez, even Tanner came to Timmy Lupus' defense in "The Bad News Bears."

6. It's only fair.
Three cities have seen A-Rod play for their team, but New York has been hogging Jeter. In the best interests of baseball, send Jeter to another city. Money is fine, but a future Hall of Famer? Now that's true revenue sharing.

More importantly, though, if Yankees fans are right (and aren't they always?), Jeter would make such a difference on a struggling team and lead the Padres, Brewers, Mariners, Royals, Pirates, Rangers, Rockies, Devil Rays, Giants, Cubs or Astros to the World Series championship that has so long escaped them. That's good for baseball, too.

And just think how fun it would be to hear fans argue whether Jeter should go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Yankees cap or a Nationals cap.

Considering everything, trading Jeter is a win-win for everybody. For the Yankees, who will add several good players and still have a great shortstop. And for whichever team gets Jeter.

In fact, the only possible losers might be New York's single women.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com and the author of "The Devil Wears Pinstripes." You can reach him at jimcaple.com, where the latest series of "24 College Avenue" begins this week. Sound off to Page 2 here.