By Ken Davidoff
Here in New York, we know better.
Derek Jeter as a double agent, working to help his old team? That would make as much sense as suggesting the former Yankees captain would use Alex Rodriguez as his “Phone a friend” were he to ever appear on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
You can bet a year’s worth of gift baskets that trading his expensive, unhappy superstar Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees brought only unhappiness to the Marlins’ rookie CEO. That being cornered into making this deal, which resulted in sizable social-media mocking that questioned his true loyalties, has to add aggravation to what has been a very rough opening act of Jeter’s new career.
He’ll have his opportunity to defend this transaction, to insist that his ownership group has the financial fortitude and baseball savvy to pull the Marlins out of their morass. What he can’t say, but what everyone in New York knows, is this:
The last thing he wants to do is help the Yankees.
After playing baseball, Jeter’s greatest gift might be his ability to hold a grudge. Remember that turbulent negotiation during Jeter’s one experience as a free agent, between the 2010 and 2011 seasons? Jeter does.
In the first three years after he retired, Jeter made himself scarce on Yankees property. He came to Yankee Stadium out of respect for his honored teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, then when the franchise retired his own No. 2. In Tampa, where he lives full-time and the Yankees hold spring training, Jeter met off-site a few times with Yankees minor leaguers at the request of Gary Denbo, his first professional manager and perpetual swing doctor who now works as the Marlins’ vice president of player development and scouting.
So folks in South Florida, Boston and everywhere else can dispatch with the theory that Jeter wants the Yankees to add to their trove of trophies. Besides, Marlins fans can find plenty of legitimate grievances and concerns about Jeter and his chairman and principal owner Bruce Sherman.
Start with the question about money. The top asset the Marlins received from the Yankees for Stanton was payroll flexibility, as the Yankees assumed $265 million of the $295 million Stanton has guaranteed. Had the Marlins been willing to take another bad Yankees contract or pay down more of the contract, they would’ve been in position to ask for better talent in return. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports first reported that the Marlins continue to seek out more investors.
Then go to competence. Jeter has experienced his share of missteps and misfortune already, from dismissing the franchise’s four wise men (Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Jack McKeon and Tony Perez) and clumsily attempting (and failing) to bring them back, to veteran scout Marty Scott getting fired while he was in the hospital recovering from surgery to treat his cancer. He also admitted at the owners’ meetings last month that he had yet to speak with Stanton, a most curious decision.
These actions gave Jeter less margin for error when it came to the Stanton trade, and man, it got hairy when Stanton made it clear he would decline transfers to both the Cardinals and the Giants. With the Dodgers’ offer of bad contracts (like Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir) unappetizing, the Marlins turned to the Yankees, who at least offered a decent player in Starlin Castro and a couple of lower-level prospects (Jose Devers and Jorge Guzman), whom Denbo knows first-hand, in addition to the bailout.
In South Florida, after this move, Jeter’s popularity probably polls similar to that of his Marlins predecessors Jeffrey Loria and David Samson — and far below beloved Miamian A-Rod. This marks more new territory for Jeter. More challenges. Both his legacy and that of commissioner Rob Manfred, who very much wanted Jeter to get this opportunity, are on the line.
He has so much to prove. Yet the proof exists already to acquit him of the most egregious charge. Rest assured that nothing would make Jeter happier than this trade creating as much Yankees agita as the A-Rod deal 13-plus years ago, and even less October success.