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Sweeny: MLB Awards And Jeter’s Suddenly Intriguing Contract; Talkin’ Prospects

Derek Jeter (credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

Derek Jeter (credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By Sweeny Murti
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Derek Jeter’s contract will not be an issue again for almost a year, but some interesting things are going on right now during awards week to significantly impact his future with the Yankees.

Jeter, of course, signed a three-year contract for 2011-2013 with a player option for a fourth year in 2014, the year in which the Yankees wish to hold their payroll under the magic number of $189 million to avoid steep luxury tax implications. (And in reality, the Yankees will be aiming for a player payroll of about $170 million because the $189 million mark includes benefits and other figures compiled by MLB).

Jeter’s player option is for a bargain rate of $8 million in 2014. However, there are incentives to drive that figure up, which he has already begun to do. Through a series of award bonuses, Jeter can add up to $9 million to his 2014 base salary. These bonuses can be gained in any season covering the contract, including 2014.

Last week Jeter won a Silver Slugger, voted as the best-hitting shortstop in the American League. Usually this means little more than another shiny trophy. But this time it triggered a $1.5 million bonus added to Jeter’s 2014 salary, so at present his team-friendly option for 2014 sits at $9.5 million. And it could go higher this week when the American League MVP voting is announced.

Impossible, you say. This year’s MVP Award will be televised by MLB Network for the first time, we have already learned that there are five finalists for the award and Jeter is not one of them. This can’t possibly add anything to Jeter’s contract. Ah, but not so fast.

The incentive clause in Jeter’s contract adds $2 million to his 2014 salary for any finish in the MVP voting from 2nd through 6th. So, while the rest of the baseball world waits to see if Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown season was enough to make him a unanimous MVP winner, the Yankee brass will be holding their breath to see if Jeter managed to sneak into 6th place in the voting. That’s not a stretch, considering the season he put together.

So by week’s end, Jeter’s $8 million dollar option (already now $9.5 million) could grow to $11.5 million. And that would be another wrinkle for the Yankees as they try to reduce their payroll for 2014.

Of course, another possibility here is that Jeter has another big season in 2013 and decides to decline his option in hopes of getting another multiyear deal. All of a sudden that team-friendly fourth year doesn’t look so good anymore. Last time Jeter took some deferred money to help the team’s payroll structure, and he might do so again. But as figured by MLB, the Yankee payroll will be determined by the Average Annual Value (AAV) of Jeter’s deal, not the yearly breakdown. So there might be little for the Yankees to do here. They might have to look elsewhere to cut corners. Of course, so much depends on the kind of year Jeter has in 2013.

Getting to $189 million — or $170 million to be more accurate — by 2014 will be a fascinating storyline for the next year and a half. And so will Derek Jeter’s return from injury and the eventual negotiation of what is likely his final contract.

____________

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Baseball America’s ranking of the Top 10 Prospects in the Yankees system:

1. Mason Williams, OF
2. Slade Heathcott, OF
3. Gary Sanchez, C
4. Tyler Austin, OF
5. Jose Campos, RHP
6. Brett Marshall, RHP
7. Angelo Gumbs, 2B
8. Manny Banuelos, LHP
9. Ty Hensley, RHP
10. Rafael DePaula, RHP

Williams’ stock was on the rise last offseason, and with the trade of Jesus Montero it is little surprise he is atop the list this year. While he put together a nice season at two levels of A-Ball (.298 BA, .346 OBP, 11 HR, 20 SB), rival scouts described him as both “talented” and “immature.” That’s not unusual, so the Yankees are still excited about his future and its a good bet he will get an extended look in spring training before getting a shot at AA-Trenton.

Heathcott is a former first-round pick with big upside and he finally put together a healthy season, which is why he rocketed to number two on this list. An exciting player who wowed scouts in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .333 with 5 double and 3 triples in 16 games, the 22-year old has been described as “reckless” at times, somewhat the same way Lenny Dykstra was in the outfield. Another scout compared him to Toronto’s Brett Lawrie, a player with plenty of talent and raw emotion and still figuring out how to channel it properly.

Still, his 2012 season (.307 BA, .378 OBP, 5 HR, 17 SB at High A-Tampa) impressed one Yankee official enough to tell me Heathcott may even be ahead of Williams now.

Tyler Austin and Angelo Gumbs are a pair of young hitters on the rise. Austin was described to me as a player with tremendous makeup, desire, and grit to go along with a potent bat. And two scouts told me Gumbs had bat speed so great it was just below Gary Sheffield’s. Odd that they used the same name–Sheffield–as comparison. High praise, indeed.

Banuelos fell significantly simply because of his injury, and with Tommy John surgery keeping him out all of 2013 it will be a while before we get to see him regain his elite status. Still, enough scouts loved him enough that they would be willing to wait for him. Banuelos is still only 21 years old.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list, according to the scouts I spoke with, were the names that were NOT listed.

Ramon Flores, Jose Ramirez, Zoilo Almonte, Rob Refsnyder and Mark Montgomery are players who the scouts I spoke with were shocked to see not on this list. In fact, when informed that Montgomery–a relief pitcher who dominated at both A-Tampa and AA-Trenton this year–was not on the list, one member of the Yankee organization told me, “That’s a joke.”

Montgomery is seen as a high-strikeout reliever in the David Robertson/Joba Chamberlain mold and could have an impact at the big league level as early as 2013.

Another thing to consider is the Yankees probably don’t have as many valuable trade chips here as you would think, considering that none of these players has made a significant impact above AA yet. Therefore, it is hard to describe any of them as “major league ready.” And that’s what most teams look for when dealing elite players.

Still, it won’t keep other teams from asking about Williams (CF) and Sanchez (C) especially, quality players at premium positions.

Sweeny Murti

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Do you see the Yanks getting under that magic number in 2014? Be heard in the comments below…