For Derek and Mo, it’s a matter of leverage

Two Yankee greats approaching the latter years of their careers are free agents this year, and the Yankees would love to keep them around. Both of them want to be rewarded for their contributions to a rich and storied franchise. Mariano Rivera wants two years at $18 million per while Derek Jeter wants a negotiation that isn’t “baffling” and something more than three years at $15 million per. One of these future Hall of Famers have leverage; the other does not.

Jeter, as we’ve explored lately, is the one without the leverage. The Yankees, wary of his age and declining numbers, have offered him a three-year, $45-million contract, and although he wants more, he has no bargaining chips. The Mets, a potential landing spot with Jose Reyes seemingly on the block, are not interested, and George A. King III reported yesterday that few other teams are either.

According to King’s sources, Jeter isn’t drawing any other interest at his asking price. Most GMs recognize that Jeter wants to stay a Yankee and that the Yankees want Jeter to stay, and thus, no one is going to get into the bargains only with the intention of driving up Jeter’s price. “What he needs to happen, and it won’t, is for Boston to get in it to amp up the price,” one of King’s sources said. “But that’s not going to happen because he is an icon. And if they did that, Theo and Cashman would go to blows. There is nobody to drive the price up.”

While one of King’s AL sources says that the Orioles, Nationals, Cardinals or Giants “might” interest in Jeter, Derek’s return to New York is a matter of “when” and not “if.” Jeter and the Yanks will have to work this one out between themselves without the threat of another team. That is not what the Yanks are facing with Rivera.

So far, all we know about the Rivera negotiations are his demands. He wants two years at $18 million per, a figure that would make him the fifth — or sixth, once Cliff Lee signs — highest paid pitcher in baseball. That total would represent a raise of $3 million over his 2010 salary and would set the market for closers going forward. The Yankees have yet to respond to Rivera’s demands, but as Mark Feinsand reported yesterday, Mo would have suitors lining up for him if he can’t reach a deal with the Yankees.

“Jeter may not have many teams looking to pay him millions, but Rivera certainly will,” one of Feinsand’s sources said. “He’s still one of the best – if not the best – closers in the game.”

Unlike Jeter, Mariano’s numbers haven’t shown an obvious decline. His strike out totals dipped by nearly 3 Ks per 9 IP in 2010, but he notched 33 saves with a 1.80 ERA. He has been very public in his desires to reach 600 saves and could do so as a Yankee or not. With Rafael Soriano the only other big-name closer out there, teams looking for relief options would flock to Rivera.

And so the Yankees are in a bind. They don’t want to spend more than they have to on either player. If Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners had their druthers, Jeter would sign the deal offered to him and Rivera would take a one- or two-year contract at $15 million a year. But leverage is a tricky thing, and somehow they have to come to terms with one player who has it and one who doesn’t. A funny thing might happen on the way to Opening Day: Because of leverage, Mariano Rivera just might end up making more than Derek Jeter next year.

Thanksgiving Open Thread

Charlie Brown had a 13.7 WARC in 2010 (wins above replacement cartoon).

Bumped back up top (7:00pm ET): Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers out there. If you’re not from the United States, then I suggest eating a huge turkey dinner anyway. I have a lot to be thankful for, but I’m not going to bore you with the details. More than anything, I’m thankful for all of you wonderful people that make RAB so great and for being a Yankee fan. When the biggest problem your team has is that they only want to pay their franchise player $15M a year rather than $20M, you have it pretty good.

Ben, Joe, and I will be doing the family and dinner thing today, so I leave you with this open thread. There’s a boatload of football games on, starting with Patriots-Lions (12:30pm CBS), then continuing with Saints-Cowboys (4:15pm, FOX), and wrapping up with the Bengals at the Jets (8:20, NFL Network). If you’re in the Tri-State Area, don’t worry if you don’t have the NFL Network, WPIX (channel 11, for me anyway) will also be carrying the game. Happy Turkey Day everyone.

From the archives: When Bernie Williams nearly left New York

Bernie goes boom against the Padres in the 1998 World Series. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

On this date in Yankee history in 1998, the Yankees signed Bernie Williams to a seven-year, $87.5-million. The deal was a surprise as it was the largest in Yankee history at the time, and it had appeared as though the team and Williams would head in different directions. The Yanks were on the verge of signing Albert Belle, and Williams was all but Boston-bound before he and the Boss had a conversation.

As a young fan, I idolized Bernie’s calm demeanor and steady play. I was crushed as the Yanks prepared to move forward without him, and I returned home from a pre-Thanksgiving party on the night of Wednesday, November 25, 1998 to a note from my parents. It simply said that the Yanks had signed Bernie. My disappointment quickly turned to elation, and Number 51 stayed in pinstripes for the rest of his career. What follows is a post I wrote in 2008 about the Bernie machinations. It all went down 12 years ago today…

October 12, 1999 — For the first time since Bucky Dent carved himself a place in playoff lore, the Yankees and Red Sox are gearing up to meet in the postseason. Boston is all abuzz as the AL East Champions are playing host to the Wild Card team and defending World Champions from New York. While the Yankees finished with 98 wins this season, the Red Sox’s 104 victories were tops in the Majors, and the Yanks will have to hope that their superior pitching can overcome a power-packed Boston lineup.

Ironic in this meeting is one center fielder for the Red Sox, the former Yankee Bernie Williams. Williams, after becoming a Yankee mainstay, left the Bronx after the Yankees’ 125-win season last year. While the Yankees were prepared to offer Williams a five-year, $60-million contract, the star and his agent Scott Boras rejected that deal. They knew they could get more elsewhere and were tired of playing games with George Steinbrenner.

So now Williams will face off against his old team in Fenway. The Yanks — with their tempestuous twosome of Paul O’Neill and Albert Belle — look strong, but can they overcome the Red Sox?

* * *

We know that didn’t happen. Bernie Williams wasn’t on the Red Sox in 1999, and the Yankees were the AL East champs again.

But it was close. For a while in 1998, it looked like Bernie was Boston-bound, and if he had landed in Fenway, it’s not hard to imagine the Sox taking the division. Williams was the top offensive center fielder in the AL in 1999. His VORP that year — a measure of how much better he was than the next best available option — was 79.9. Darren Lewis, the Red Sox’s starting center fielder, pulled down a -24.8 VORP. That swing of 100 would have theoretically netted the Sox 10 more wins and a spot atop the AL East. It’s funny how history turns out.

“Bernie on the Red Sox?” you might say with a chuckle. “That never would have happened, right?” While it can be tough to see through Scott Boras’ hyperbole and fake seven-year offers, by all accounts in November of 1998, Bernie Williams nearly ended up in Fenway.

Bernie’s tale begins in 1997 when the Yankees were trying to extend their center fielder. They offered him a five-year deal worth just south of $40 million. As you could guess, they were laughed out of the room, and for a while, it seemed as though their offer and past contract snubs were insulting enough to convince Williams to cease negotiations entirely. Money and loyalty are powerful motivators.

Throughout November, Scott Boras and the Yankees engaged in their usual dance as reports of other deals surfaced. At various times, the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies and Red Sox all expressed interest in Williams. But by the end, it became a battle between rivals. The Yankees and the Red Sox squared off with a big x-factor waiting in the wings.

To the dismay of Yankee fans, that x-factor was none other than hotheaded slugger Albert Belle. As the Yankees and Bernie looked to finalize their looming divorce, a new marriage between the Yankees and Belle was on the horizon. While the Yanks were initially interested in Jim Edmonds, those talks fizzled, and at 32 years old, Belle was one of the most sought-after free agents of 1998. The hip condition that would end his career two seasons later was nowhere to be found, and his numbers and temper were fearsome.

When Williams rejected that five-year, $60-million deal, the Yankees turned their attention to Belle. When I left my apartment on Wednesday night, November 25, 1998, to attend a friend’s Thanksgiving Eve party, I believed that Bernie Williams’ tenure in the Bronx was over. The Yanks and Bernie, as Buster Olney had reported that morning, were nearing a final separation, and Bernie was about to land in Boston.

The Yankees however had an out: Scott Boras offered them one last chance to match the Red Sox’s supposed seven-year, $90-million deal. Bernie, it seemed, wasn’t as keen to get out of New York as earlier reports indicated. When I got home late that night, my dad had left me a note on the door: Bernie Williams signs with the Yanks for seven years and $87.5 million, it said. I was ecstatic. Somehow, the Yankees and Bernie were able to overcome their differences, and Bernie would remain a Yankee.

In the end, it was always tough to tell if Bernie was actually going to leave. Three columnists in The TimesJack Curry, Harvey Araton and Buster Olney — all speculated that Boras used vague, half-serious offers to get the Yanks to ante up. By keeping the archrival Red Sox involved, Boras knew the Yanks would pay, and he won.

When the real 1999 ALCS dawned, the Yanks, led by Bernie, beat the Red Sox with their sad excuse for a center fielder. As we know, Bernie’s Yanks would go on to great success. While Bernie faded by the end of his career and had a tough time coming to grips with the end of his playing career, keeping Bernie out of Boston was a sage move indeed.

Quick Draft Order Tracker Update

Just a quick heads up, I have added all of the Type-A and B free agents that were offered arbitration (with Elias scores) to our 2011 Draft Order Tracker. It’s also been updated to reflect the now finalized Victor Martinez, Joaquin Benoit, and John Buck signings as well. There’s a total of 14 Type-A’s and 21 Type-B’s, so the supplemental first round could theoretically be 35 picks long. That won’t happen though, some guys will re-sign with their old club, some will accept arbitration, some might should retire (coughTrevorHoffmancough).

I did the math, and the absolute worst that the Javy Vazquez compensation pick can be is 57th overall. More than likely, it’ll be right around 50 somewhere, which isn’t bad at all. That pick is protected, so the Yankees keep it no matter how many free agents they sign.

A late-night ‘what if': Derek Jeter vs. Cliff Lee

For the past few weeks, the Hot Stove League rumors have mostly concerned Derek Jeter. While Cliff Lee remains the biggest off-season fish on the Yanks’ radar, the team has been preoccupied with the negotiations with Jeter. What if those negotiations are going to cost the Yankees more than just dollars? According to Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman, the team’s focus on Derek Jeter very well might do that.

According to Michael S. Schmidt of The Times, the Yanks’ courtship of Jeter has diverted them from their Hot Stove League shopping list. “We would like to have him signed, in the fold, and concentrating on other aspects of the team,” Cashman said. “Instead, we are concentrating on re-signing our shortstop.” By and large, all has been quiet on the Cliff Lee front, but as the Jeter situation drags on, the Yanks will have to turn their attention elsewhere if they want to check off the players on their off-season shopping list. I’d hate to see Jeter emerge as the reason why the Yanks can’t adequate pursue Lee.

Open Thread: The night before the turkey

For better or worse, Derek Jeter has dominated the Yankee headlines over the past few days, and he has broken the fanbase into two groups. Some feel Jeter is an aging short stop asking for too much; others feel the Yanks should pay their captain what he wants. Either way, Derek probably isn’t going anywhere, but this one won’t be resolved any time soon.

To, um, commemorate the goings-on, long-time RAB reader Tyler Wilkinson sent us the graphic you see here. Interpret it as you will, and check out more from Tyler on Twitter. It might make for interesting discussions during the Hot Stove League, but I think we’ll feel better when Jeter and the Yanks agree to terms.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. In local action, the Nets visit the Celtics, and the Knicks wrap up a home-and-home set against the Bobcats in Charlotte. On the ice, the Blue Jackets visit the Islanders while the Devils host the Flames and the Rangers are in Tampa Bay to face the Lightning. If you’re with family tonight, enjoy the start of the holiday. We’ll be here all weekend.

Report: Mets uninterested in Derek Jeter

As Derek Jeter‘s contraction negotiations have turned messy, those who say they will just die without Jeter grow concerned that he’ll sign with the Mets or — gasp! — the Red Sox. In fact, The Post even photoshopped Jeter’s head onto Dustin Pedroia’s body for its back cover today. But while fans fear Jeter’s departure, take a read through this short article. Daily News writer Andy Martino says that if Jeter does hit the open market, the Mets won’t be interested. They have $11 million invested in their short stop and aren’t looking to add a 36-year-old who is demanding more than $15 million a year.

In essence, that’s what this entire exercise in futility is about. The Red Sox just eschewed resigning Victor Martinez for four years and $52 million. They too are not about to sign Jeter to a long-term deal worth more money than that. In fact, no team on the open market will. Sure, the Giants might be interested if they can land Jeter for low-dollar, short-term commitment, but the offer from the Yanks — one they’re willing to sweeten — is the best Jeter will get. He knows it; the team knows it; and when the posturing and negotiations are through, Derek will be back in pinstripes. That you could take to the bank.