I often like to join most non-Yankees fans in pronouncing Derek Jeter as one of the most overrated players ever, and certainly there are some people who overrate Jeter. To be objective though, I probably underrate Jeter to a greater degree than others overrate him. From 2002 to 2008 (the years for which the data is available), Jeter has earned 85% of his large salary, in spite of his regularly below average defense. Even this season, at age 35, he has already earned $13 million of the 20 million that he will be payed this season by producing 2.9 wins above replacement. Surely, based solely on on-field contributions, Jeter does not deserve to be the face of baseball for the past decade, but he is a legitimately great player and is much better than I ever give him credit for.
All that this brings me to is a story recounted to me by a current Chicago Cubs scout and former Houston Astros scout who was at one of the New Britain Rock Cats games over the weekend. This scout was talking about Jeter and called him the best high school position player he had ever seen (Steve Avery was his choice for pitcher, in case you were wondering). He recounted to me stories of watching Jeter effortlessly fielding balls on the outfield grass and firing rockets over to first base. Having the first pick in the 1992 draft, this scout of course suggested picking the star shortstop from Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Astros were on a budget, though, and were not ready to spend the $750,000 it would take to keep Jeter from attending school. Instead, the Astros took Cal State Fullerton prospect Phil Nevin since he was willing to sign for only $450,000, Jeter slid to sixth where the Yankees picked him, and the rest is history. How would things have changed if the Astros had picked Jeter instead? Even if he had become the same player, Jeter would almost certainly not have become the same popular figure playing in Houston. Phil Nevin produced 4703 plate appearances of .814 OPS (though only 69 of those came with Houston, prior to a midseason trade to the Tigers), but one still wonders what would have happened to one of the most popular players of the last 15 years if the Astros had not been so concerned over $300,000.