Fast forward to today and the Yankees are back to blowing away opponents again and have a 2 game lead in the AL East with just seven games to play. Their magic number to clinch the AL East is 6 and over the last 10 games, in the epicenter of the pennant race, they have the best record in the American League.
During the worst of times during their free fall, they never stopped joking around prior to games; their manager--save for the heated argument with the Post's Joel Sherman--never seemed to break a sweat, and life at Yankee Stadium remained serene and business-like in the post-George Steinbrenner era.
Throughout the entire season, their leader and captain, Derek Jeter, has been the most consistently good player on the club, has led by example and kept the calm that would have escaped other teams. Jeter is currently hitting .321 and could very well win the batting title, as he is just 8 points behind Triple Crown threat Miguel Cabrera. But more than his clutch, consistent hitting and reliable defense are the intangibles he brings to the Yankees.
At 38, he is at least 6 years past the prime defensively of most shortstops. But when Jeter was quoted this week as saying that baseball is a business and that if he still wanted to play every day, but the Yankees would prefer he be more of a living statue, he would consider other teams, it was genius.
Nobody is saying Jeter would ever want to leave the Yankees. Even Jeter has said as much. But he left the door open just enough that it would be a PR nightmare if he went to play for, say, the newly improved Baltimore Orioles one day. And it would be beyond so if he was chasing Pete Rose's all-time hits record in a uniform other than the pinstripes.
So what's Jeter worth?
In a way we can all understand--dollars--quite a bit by baseball standards. He is signed through next season and than has an option in 2014 where he could leave the Bronx. Thus, he could be starting with a new club just before his 40th birthday with around 3,500 hits or about 756 behind Pete Rose's 4256.
Here's my take: The Yankees offer him 2 year deals at 25 million dollars as long as he is an every day player. As long as he is collecting his 180-plus hit totals a year and giving the Yankees the intangibles, they will make that money back easily when considering the value he brings as one of the greatest Yankees of all-time.
The unlikely alternative of Jeter going on the open-market?
Well, if it's the Dodgers, I guess the sky's the limit. But if it's an earthly team with a realistic payroll and a shot at winning it all, probably more like 8-10 million on one year deals.
I put nothing past Jeter. At age 38, he has collected 208 hits this season and is within reach of his career-best total of 219 in 1999. He hasn't slowed down much at all. No other Yankee has been close to as consistent as Jeter. No one even close.
So because of Derek Jeter, the Yankees should never be counted out of anything.