Commentary

Derek Jeter will never, ever leave Yanks

When captain's new deal expires, remember: one uniform, one legacy, one conclusion

Updated: December 5, 2010, 11:17 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

At the start of a successful negotiation that ended in a face-to-face meeting in the New York area Saturday, before Derek Jeter or the Yankees even made it out of their Tampa dugouts, the two sides were a dreamy $111 million apart.

Jeter's agent, Casey Close, mentioned something about six years at $25 million a pop, and the Yankees mentioned something about three years at $13 million a pop.

These weren't formal offers, or even ceremonial first pitches. More than anything, they were warning shots fired over the opposing side's head. Jeter was suggesting $150 million. The Yankees were suggesting $39 million.

So it appeared only two things were guaranteed about the talks:

• Yes, they were going to get "messy," as Hal Steinbrenner suggested they might.

Alex Rodriguez was going to love every minute of it while sunning himself and his $305 million contract on a yacht by Cameron Diaz's side.

But in fact there was this third and far more important inevitability: Jeter was going to make a deal with the Yankees, even if it meant The Captain agreeing to a compromise that would feel more like a surrender.

[+] EnlargeErnie Banks, Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesErnie Banks, Cal Ripken ... yes, Derek Jeter understands what it means for a Hall of Famer to play for one team.

Less than a month after employer and employee sat down for the first time in Tampa, with the gulf between them as wide as the Atlantic, the iconic franchise and the iconic shortstop met Saturday in an undisclosed New York-area location to complete a three-year deal for a guaranteed $51 million, with a newfangled fourth-year option and awards bonus plan that could allow Jeter to earn as much as $65 million.

In other words, Derek Jeter proved too smart to even remotely consider leaving the Yankees, the team of his boyhood dreams.

"I'm happy for baseball and I'm happy for Yankee fans," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter, Jeter's first big league manager, said when given the news by phone. "But I'm not happy for the Baltimore Orioles. Selfishly, I was hoping Derek would go somewhere else and play in the National League, because he's still pretty special. But I knew all along he'd end up staying in New York."

Jeter and Close knew it when they stepped into Saturday's meeting. So did the men who joined them in the room -- general manager Brian Cashman, team president Randy Levine and Steinbrenner.

"With all the noise that was generated by the negotiations," said one source with knowledge of the talks, "everyone involved knew Derek wasn't going anywhere. There wasn't really a market for him, and at the end of the day he's the team captain. A deal was inevitable."

Jeter hopes to play for six or seven more years, so whenever he's a free agent again, and whenever the Yankees start talking again about his declining physical skills, don't believe for a second that he might spend the final hours of his career in another jersey and cap.

If Jeter and the Yanks start barking at each other in public in the winter of 2013 or 2014, ignore the irrelevant back and forth. They will never divorce. Jeter understands the value of a one-uniform legacy, especially when that uniform represents the most famous brand in sports.

This agreement hammers home the point. Coming off his 10-year, $189 million contract, Jeter wanted another nine-figure score. He saw himself as a viable 36-year-old superstar who had endured one lousy year. He didn't see any reason he shouldn't secure a second monster contract, just like A-Rod had.

When Close was done floating the dreamy six-year, $25 million-a-year fantasy, his first proposal checked in around $22 million-$24 million per for as many as five years. Only the Yankees were thinking eight figures all the way. They moved from three years at $39 million to three years at $45 million, and suggested they had come to take-it-or-leave-it place.

The two sides traded some hard verbal jabs for the record, stunning millions of fans who had come to see this Jeter-Yankees partnership for what it was: the game's most respectful and fruitful marriage.

Some actually thought Jeter might go play for the Giants or Dodgers or Red Sox the way Michael Jordan played for the Wizards or Joe Montana played for the Chiefs. After Troy Tulowitzki signed his own big deal, the Colorado shortstop said he hoped his idol wouldn't leave the Bronx.

New York had been the stage for ugly departures of the not-too-distant past. Patrick Ewing forced his way out of town, and Mark Messier took a three-year, $20 million offer from Vancouver after Rangers management tired of paying him for that one historic Stanley Cup.

But Jeter had won five championships, or five more than Ewing, and didn't win five with a different franchise like Messier had. Jeter wasn't just the face of the Yankees. Like DiMaggio and Mantle, he was the Yankees.

In the end, Jeter wasn't about to let pride end his run as pride of the Yankees. Realizing that his employer would only budge a bit, and that the market gave the Yankees the very leverage Jeter had 10 years back, The Captain took one for the team, even agreeing to defer what one source called "a small amount of cash" to help the Yanks on the luxury-tax front.

Sure, he's still making a killer wage. Just not the wage he thought he deserved.

"A lot of people can't afford to pay a 36-year-old shortstop a three-year contract similar to that," Showalter said. "That's another advantage the Yankees have."

That, and the lure of the pinstripes. Jeter didn't need to see altered photos of himself in the uniforms of the Red Sox and Mets in newspapers and on websites. He already knew he'd look ridiculous in the colors of another team.

So on the day Boston made its play for Adrian Gonzalez, the Yankees' big move was far more predictable.

"It was so apparent this marriage with the Yankees was going to continue," said Dick Groch, the scout who signed a teenage Jeter way back when, "that I felt no reason to even follow the negotiations. Derek Jeter and the Yankees is just one of those things that will just keep going on and on."

The Yankees could have offered Jeter minimum wage, free parking and cab fare to and from the ballpark, and he would have found a way to accept it.

Jeter's never leaving. At any salary, he knows the gig is priceless.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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