When the Hot Stove League officially kicked off on November 2, Hal Steinbrenner took to the AM airwaves to discuss the Yanks’ off-season plans. In doing so, he warned that the upcoming negotiations between Derek Jeter and his long-time employer would not be for the faint of heart. “There’s always the possibility that things could get messy,” he said to Michael Kay.
Three weeks later, the relationship between the Yankees and their captain has gotten very, very messy indeed. Since the start, the Yankees have toed the line. “I want to get a deal done that he’s happy with but also that I’m happy with,” Hal Steinbrenner said in early November.
Since then, the Yankees have extended Jeter at least one contract offer. The team hasn’t confirmed the dollar amount, but the club is reported to have given Jeter’s camp a three-year, $45-million offer. Things took a turn for the worse when Jeter’s agent Casey Close took exception to the offer and the subsequent reports of an emerging hard line.
“Derek Jeter is a great Yankee and he’s a great player. With that said and done, now is a different negotiation than 10 years ago,” Randy Levine said last week. “He’s a baseball player, and this is a player negotiation. Everything he is and who he is gets factored in. But this isn’t a licensing deal or a commercial rights deal, he’s a baseball player. With that said, you can’t take away from who he is. He brings a lot to the organization. And we bring a lot to him.”
Close called the Yanks’ stance “baffling” as anonymous sources said that Jeter wanted a five- or six-year deal. Jeter wants to keep pace with A-Rod, but the Yanks don’t want to make the same contract mistake twice. Close expressed dismay the Yanks would be so public in their comments, and Jeter confidantes later said the two sides are “not even in the same ballpark.”
Today, the Yankees swung back and hard. George A. King III spoke to Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman. “There is nothing baffling about our position,” Cashman said. “We have been very honest and direct with them, not through the press. We feel our offer is appropriate and fair. We appreciate the contributions Derek has made to our organization and we have made it clear to them. Our primary focus is his on-the-field performance the last couple of years in conjunction with his age, and we have some concerns in that area that need to be addressed in a multiyear deal going forward.”
To quell doubts, the Yanks, Cashman said, still want Jeter around: “I restate Derek Jeter is the best shortstop for this franchise as we move forward. The difficulty is finding out what is fair between both sides.”
Later in the day, Cashman elaborated in an interview with Wallace Matthews. The team, he says, has made a “fair and appropriate” offer to Jeter. “We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account,” the GM said. “We’ve encouraged him to test the market and see if there’s something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That’s the way it works.” He later added, “We want to be treated fairly. We’re not just going to write a blank check.”
Matthews, who says that Jeter wants 4-6 years at $20 million per, had more:
“We believe that Derek Jeter is the best person to play shortstop for this franchise moving forward,” Cashman said. “Do we want to lose Derek Jeter? No. Do we want to treat Derek Jeter fair? Absolutely. Do we want to be treated fair at the same time? No question about it.”
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to put the best winning team on the field,” Cashman added. “We feel Derek Jeter gives us the best chance to win. But we’re not dealing with Derek alone. We’re dealing with our closer, we’re trying to add to our club, and if putting all out eggs into one basket takes away from our ability to add to our club, I ain’t gonna do it.”
Asked if there was any chance the negotiation could fall apart and Jeter could somehow wind up in a different uniform next year, Cashman said, “Not from us. We would like Derek Jeter to be a Yankee and we’re making our best efforts to keep that in play. But it takes two.”
The Yankees are pressing and hard right now on Jeter. They know his leverage is at an all-time low, and they know what they want to pay Jeter. Derek has spent his Yankee career being the opposite of controversial. He never says anything; he never finds himself in a scandal; and he is exceptional at toeing the Steinbrenner party line. He has been the model employee, but at age 36 and coming off of his worst offensive season, being steadfast in your devotion only earns you so many dollars above market value.
Soon though he’ll have to respond with something more than the word “baffling” because the Yanks, as Tyler Kepner wrote today, certainly don’t think these negotiations are baffling. If anything, the club has a plan and they are, in spite of mounting public criticism, sticking with it. Right now, the onus is on Jeter to work this out, and all indications are that the Yanks aren’t through negotiation. The club, Jon Heyman said earlier before rescinding his statement, may bump up the three-year, $45-million, if they haven’t done so already, but if that isn’t enough, he can indeed try the open market.
“He should be nothing but a New York Yankee,” Cashman said, “if he chooses to be.”