The Yankees lost on Monday, but that's not a very big deal. Barring the impossible, the team is heading to the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 years, looking to defend last year's World Series championship.
There is, however, one area of concern for the team that extends beyond the year: How much are they going to pay Derek Jeter?
The shortstop is an icon, holding down his spot in the infield and at the top of the Yankees' batting order since 1996. He was given an otherworldly 10-year contract worth $189 million in 2001. It set him up to be paid $20 million per year from 2007-09 and then $21 million in 2010. Jeter, of course, deserved to be paid well, and the 10-year deal was as much a statement of faith and confidence from George Steinbrenner.
But few 36-year-olds have proven to be worth $21 million, and this year, Jeter isn't exactly changing that perception.
He's batting .264, nearly 30 points lower than he's ever hit in a full season. That's not necessarily shocking, but his play in the past few weeks has been so un-Jeterian that it has to have the Yankees' front office wondering what to do this winter.
Since Aug. 14, he's batting .161. He has just one multi-hit game, and he has just four extra-base hits in 87 at-bats.
It's obviously not killing the Yankees on the field, who have gone 14-8 in that stretch and maintain the best record in the bigs, but off the field, it will be an issue for Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as well as GM Brian Cashman.
"I think they've still got to pay him $20 million a year, just out of respect," an unnamed scout told ESPN.com.
The scout added that Jeter's statistic downfall does not appear to just be a result of some bad luck.
"Right now, his bat looks slow, and it never really looked slow in the past. So it's a tough call," the scout said.
There still is at least some reason to believe that Jeter can bounce back. Remember the month of April in 2004? Jeter was booed at home during an abysmal opening month, in which he batted .168 with 16 strikeouts and 16 hits. He responded by hitting .314 the rest of the way.
Yet even if the past few weeks are an indication of significant decline, the Yankees can probably afford to pay Jeter an absurd amount of money for as long as Jeter wants — he's the captain, and he's earned it. But with more than $200 million already in the bank from salary alone, how much more does Jeter really need?
If nothing else, this coming winter will be an opportunity for Jeter to enhance his image by stating publicly that he's open to a pay cut. A very large pay cut. If he does so after winning back-to-back World Series titles and his sixth as a member of the Yankees, he'll look that much better. He'd also be saving Hank, Hal and Cashman from being the most uncomfortable men in baseball this winter.