Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Would YOU Pay Jeter to Join the Mets?

Over on Amazin Avenue, the epicenter of rational thought in the Mets blogosphere, they had a poll this morning [1]asking readers the following:

Would you sign Derek Jeter to play for the Mets? To my surprise, the responses were overwhelmingly negative. By a margin of 76% to 23%, respondents voted no.[2]

I would most certainly sign Jeter if he was willing to play second base rather than shortstop. The real question, as far as I'm concerned, is "how much would you be willing to pay him?" I imagine that most of the people that voted "no" in the above poll did so because they took ancillary factors into account, such as price.

As far as I can tell, the question breaks down into two parts. One, what is Jeter's on-field value likely to be? And two, what is his off-the-field value to the Mets?

On Field
As everyone already knows, despite winning a "gold glove" this season, Jeter just turned in his worst season as a professional ballplayer, turning in a pretty anemic line of .270/.340/.370. By WAR, Jeter was worth only 2.5 wins last season, for a market value in the neighborhood of $9-$10 million. Is this just a down season for a player who is now 37 years old? Or is this the beginning of the end?

For those who think this is just a blip, there is evidence to support that. In 2000, Jeter was worth only 3.4 WAR. In 2008, he was worth 3.8 WAR. Both times, he bounced back. In fact, he posted his second best season by WAR last year, putting up a fantastic 7.1 WAR in 2009. In that 2009 season, fangraphs has Jeter as worth in the neighborhood of $32 million.

For those who think that this is the beginning of the end, there is a lot of support there too. As we mentioned, Jeter is 37 years old and his defense is already much-maligned by the statistical crowd. Jeter never had an exceptionally high walk rate or isolated power. He's very much beholden to his batting average from year to year (which explains the fluctuations for one thing) and as he ages, he won't be able to compensate much for a decline.

So what can you expect from Jeter going forward? Here are his values for the last four seasons as per fangraphs (with his BABIP in parentheses):

2007: $14.3 (.367 babip)
2008: $16.5 (.333 babip)
2009: $32.0 (.368 babip)
2010: $9.8 (.307 babip)

BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play, and is generally considered to be something which fluctuates from season-to-season independently of the skill of the player. For his career, Jeter has a .354 average on balls he hits into play, so it's much more likely that he hits close to that number next season than repeat the lowly .307 he had this year. In addition, he's a good fit for Citi Field in that his production doesn't derive from swatting home runs.

If I had to take a guess at what Jeter's value might be going forward (and I'm sure that the projection systems will beat me badly when it comes to accuracy), I'd have Jeter worth something like 2011: $18 million, 2012: $14 million, 2013: $10 million. I'd be comfortable offering Jeter, if he wanted to play, a three year, $42 million contract for his on-the-field abilities alone.

The above is with the caveat, of course, that he could play second base.[3] There is one, final benefit to this signing which is a purely on-the-field benefit: second base is our biggest black hole.

The Mets are in a strange predicament at the moment (aside from money) in that they are adequate at basically every position around the diamond. From Wright, Pagan, and Reyes - who are clearly above average - to Davis, Thole, Beltran and Bay, they have decent players occupying every position on the field.... except second base.

So if you want to talk benefit for your marginal dollars, second base is the place to spend them.

Off Field
You never want to put too much stock into this, but stealing Jeter away from the Yankees will have *some* kind of value. But it's a) hard to tell what it will be and b) impossible to measure. Would signing Jeter to the Mets sell more season tickets? Will it sell jerseys? Will it raise the prestige of the organization? Will it allow Mets fans to make fun of Yankee fans, or would it be the opposite, and have the Mets looking desperate?

It's really hard to try and quantify the impact of that move. One thing you do know, though, is that there would be some tangible financial benefit to signing Jeter and to have him collect his 3,000th hit as a Met -- but that NOTHING is better for business than winning. Ultimately, any discussion of value would have to center around the Mets-Jeter union being productive, financially sound, and contribute to success on the diamond.

So What's the Offer?
It probably would end up being a slight overpay, but I'd offer Jeter a three year deal for $50 million to join the Mets. However, a slight overpay can be justified in situations where a) you're shoring up your worst position, b) you're working on creating a new culture for your team, and c) you're securing a superstar as he marches toward historic milestones.

The Mets probably don't have that kind of money to play with this offseason, but if they did, Jeter would be a good player to spend it on.


[1] Also, great Drago reference.

[2] Of course there are typical caveats about sampling... I imagine that even among the thoughtful Mets fans, the divide is much closer than this.

[3] I'll let the baseball people and the scouts figure out whether that would be possible or not given his particular set of skills. If I had to guess, I'd think that a shortstop like Jeter would be able to make the transition to second base without too much of a problem. In fact, since second base is considered a less important defensive position than shortstop, I would not be surprised to find that Jeter would make a better defensive second baseman than shortstop.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great article and a very balanced view of the Jeter-to-mets possibility. I agree with the 3 yr 50M number for him at the second base. Even if he produced last year's numbers, that would still be a solid upgrade on what we have right now and I am of the camp that this year was a blip and he could possibly have been distracted with his impending contract and the treatment his friend A-Rod is getting from HIS team.. If this would ever happen, look at the possible mets lineup - Reyes, Jeter, Wright, Bay, Beltran, Davis, Pagan ...
Look at the infield - Wright, Reyes, Jeter, Davis and Beltran, Pagan & Bay in the outfield.. This reads fantastic ... Cheers!