It was the kind of titillating back-page story the New York tabloids live for. A photo of Yankees captain Derek Jeter, touched up so the shortstop appeared to be wearing a Red Sox uniform.

The picture, appearing in the New York Post last week, had to bring a smile to Sox fans everywhere. It also had Yankee fans wondering if the iconic player could actually cross over enemy lines and join the Sox.

Realistically, there is little chance Jeter will play for the Red Sox.

The asking price is too steep for a 36-year-old middle infielder coming off his worst season at the plate. That’s why the Yankees have reportedly made him a relatively short offer: three years at $45 million.

Jeter apparently wants more. A lot more. He’s looking for something in the Alex Rodriguez range, and he’s some $65 million apart from the team.

There is no question Jeter is worth more to the Yankees than he is to anyone else. That’s why it’s somewhat surprising that the negotiations became so public so quickly. General Manager Brian Cashman has already suggested that Jeter “test the market”, and part-owner Hank Steinbrenner said “I don’t feel we owe anybody anything monetarily.”

Not the sort of Lifetime Achievement Deal that Jeter was hoping for.

Which brings us back to Boston.

While Jeter doesn’t fit the Sox needs – for the money it would cost to bring him here they could pony up a little more and bring back Adrian Beltre. He’s younger, and (at this point in his career) better.

Theo Epstein has made it clear that he won’t build a team on the basis of good PR. He will try to construct a roster that will compete for the long term, even if it means bad press. That was made clear once again last week when Victor Martinez – one of the team’s best hitters and most popular players – signed a seemingly affordable four-year, $50 million contract with Detroit.

The Red Sox struggled throughout most of last season, missing the playoffs for just the second time in eight years. Television and radio ratings plummeted. The Fenway Park sellout streak is on life support.

Winning would change a lot of that, but so would the signing of one of the greatest players in the history of Boston’s arch-rival.

It would be the most significant uniform swap baseball has seen since Babe Ruth went to New York and helped create a dynasty. Jeter could play third base, or go to short if the Sox moved Marco Scutaro.

And, just like that, the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry would be back on the map. Boston’s baseball team would be must-see entertainment once again, and we’d be anticipating opening day for weeks.

It might not make great baseball sense, but signing Jeter would be the type of marketing coup most businesses would die for.

At worst, the Sox would end up with an aging superstar, a player with five World Series rings and a leader in every sense of the world. the end of his contract, he could serve as the ultimate role model for up-and-coming whiz kid Jose Iglesias.

At best, Jeter would rediscover his form, using Fenway Park to make him the player he was just two seasons ago, when he finished third in the AL MVP voting.

Most likely, a Sox offer would simply force the Yankees to make a stronger effort to keep him. That would force them to spend more money on their captain, and would divert their attention from other free-agent negotiations.

In other words, an offer to Jeter would be good for the Red Sox, no matter the outcome. With the winter meetings less than a week away, it would be the perfect way to ignite the hot stove for the winter ahead.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.