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War of words complicating Jeter's negotiations with Yankees

Derek Jeter is an iconic, alltime Yankee great, and is just about everything his agent Casey Close has said he is, except maybe Babe Ruth. But that one bit of hyperbole should be forgiven because Jeter doesn't trail very many beyond Ruth in the pantheon of Yankees legends.

Jeter has led an incredible life, earning $205 million on the field alone, dating a string of starlets culminating with what has been rumored to be the final starlet, and built an incredible career on talent, hard work and intestinal fortitude that's made him the face of the 15-year Yankees dynasty that began his rookie year of 1996, not to mention a startling lack of controversy and an image as pristine as possible.

But Jeter has a problem now. He seems to lacks leverage in his contract negotiations with the Yankees.

The Yankees have offered the free-agent shortstop $45 million for three years, and while that is their initial offer and surely not their final one (there will be at least one more), the Yankees' first bid quite obviously pales compared to what Jeter believes he has brought to the franchise. Jeter has not uttered a word about this, but the escalating verbal exchanges between Close and Cashman and his Yankees cohorts strongly suggests neither side is thrilled with the other right now. Jeter obviously wants more years and a lot more dollars than have been offered -- though no one is saying exactly how much more.

"Do we want to keep Jeter? Yes,'' Cashman said in a phone call. "Do we want to treat him fairly? Yes. But we want to be treated fairly also.''

Cashman said that this is "a negotiation like any other ... just there's a lot more money and a lot more interest because of the player.''

But Cashman isn't treating it like the others. He has seemed downright shrill in this case. Close's one reference to Ruth has set off some Yankees people, who interestingly point out that even Ruth took a pay cut at age 36, but especially Cashman, who seems to have taken Close's one comment to the New York Daily News that he is "baffled'' by the Yankees' stance far too personally. Their offer isn't a mystery, but the Yankees' behavior is a bit baffling at times. Why insult the face of your franchise?

The negotiation has turned ugly in a hurry. The city is split. There's a caricature of Cashman dressed up like a chicken (or is a turkey?) on the back of the New York Daily News Wednesday, though much of the media has taken the management position.

This negotiation involves a player that has carried himself with dignity, class and grace throughout his career, and a franchise that is supposed to be about that, as well. The Yankees have every right to think they're winning this high-stakes game, as Jeter appears to lack the leverage. Although, Cashman's tone and words have been oddly negative. If anything is baffling, that surely is.

Aren't the Yankees likely to retain Jeter? Can Jeter really leave? (You sure wouldn't think so, though one unnamed friend said he isn't so sure: more on that later).

This has gotten nasty in a hurry, and it really didn't need to.

Jeter isn't saying anything, but the one thing he historically can't abide by is any airing of negativity (he nearly ended a close friendship with Alex Rodriguez over some unflattering comments A-Rod made a decade ago, and likely would have according to mutual friends if the Yankees hadn't traded for A-Rod and placed him 40 feet to his right in the Yankees infield). So Jeter can be assumed to be at least displeased that these talks have gone public and that Cashman has issued not-so-subtle swipes. "When they say anything, there's always a 'but'," a friend of Jeter's pointed out.

And now comes Cashman's personal challenge to Jeter to "shop,'' to look around. Cashman quite apparently doesn't believe Jeter would leave, that he would give up the captaincy and risk his legacy, that he is ultimately too sane to give up what's been a great thing. But while making the offer public probably helps the Yankees scare away a lot of the competition, at the very least Cashman's suggestion that Jeter look around won't help expedite matters and endangers their relationship. The Yankees plainly have a hard time believing Jeter would risk alienating his many fans and damaging his perfect image by leaving, that he isn't an A-Rod, who opted out of his contract in 2007 and scared them into his second record contract, a $275-million-plus-extras contract that is hanging over these talks.

At the heart of this monetary dispute is that the Yankees want to pay Jeter mainly as a great ballplayer who had an uncharacteristically less-than-great 2010 season and may well be on the way down (though he did score 110 runs, rank near the top of the offensive charts for shortstops and win a Gold Glove, albeit a controversial one). Jeter, meanwhile, wants to be paid based on what he has meant, and continues to mean, to the brand, to the bottom line and to the franchise. Much as in the case of Joe Torre, Yankees people believe they have helped make Jeter. But that rings somewhat less true when talking about an alltime great shortstop than a manager who more directly benefits from their consistently high payrolls.

The Yankees have made clear they believe $45 million is an overpay for a 36-year-old infielder. Jeter, though, has told friends he doesn't believe it's an age issue and that he finally corrected a flaw in his swing with a month to go in the season, a flaw his friends believe might have been corrected sooner had his old friend Don Mattingly still been the hitting coach.

Should Jeter accept the $45 million deal (he won't), he'll have made $250 million, which is more than anyone but his former BFF-turned-frenemy Rodriguez, who's now had two contracts that top Jeter's potential $250 million total. The Yankees think enough is enough, and even part-owner Hank Steinbrenner has awakened from his multi-year slumber to chime in with that sentiment, telling the Associated Press, "As much as we want to keep everybody, we've already made these guys very, very rich, and I don't feel we owe anybody anything monetarily. Some of these players are wealthier than their bosses.''

The Yankees' quickie summary of Jeter's stance is that 1) he is owed the money for what he's done, and 2) A-Rod.

Although the Jeter camp isn't saying much publicly, it's probably a little more nuanced and specific than that. Jeter wants to be paid for his value to the franchise, which has risen two to three times, into the billions, during his tenure (from $600 million in the mid-1990s to an estimated $1.6 billion), and continues to rise. The Yankees have been even more successful off the field than on it. Their YES Network is worth as much or more than the team itself by some estimates. While they don't disclose revenues, estimates are that they're up 50 percent since moving to the new Yankee Stadium.

In calculating their initial offer, the Yankees surely point to the salaries of other star middle infielders such as Hanley Ramirez (who took one of the worst contracts in sports history), Rafael Furcal, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Brian Roberts -- all of whom are paid well short of $15 million a year.

They point to a sport practically devoid of 37-year-olds making $15 million. The only two are Ichiro Suzuki, who makes $17 million, and Todd Helton, who's in the last year of a regrettable deal -- though of course Alex Rodriguez's deal calls for him to make much more than that when he reaches 37. (Rodriguez is in the middle of the Jeter saga by virtue of his largesse and his nonstop rivalry with Jeter.)

That the Yankees declined to offer arbitration to Jeter could mean they are confident he isn't going anywhere, or that they don't trust the process. But some other agents claim it's a "tell'' that Jeter could be proven to be "worth" $25 million for a year in arbitration.

Close declined comment about all of it, but in talks Jeter surely points to his value to the Yankees brand, which is inarguable. The problem is, it's also incalculable. And more to the point, it doesn't translate to the Yankees' 29 other competitors. Everyone around baseball says Jeter is worth more to the Yankees, who are in turn worth far more than anyone else.

The Yankees have acknowledged his value exists by offering the $45 million, which is believed by several execs to be more than other teams would offer him. And that number seems well-designed to scare off most suitors. Even in this haywire market, a majority of executives quizzed are skeptical about whether Jeter could do better on the open market.

"Doubtful,'' one competing executive answered. "No,'' said another flat out.

Who knows for sure, though? It can't entirely be ruled out that Jeter can do better elsewhere. His cachet travels. "Someone may want to make a splash,'' another exec said.

"Don't be so sure,'' said that ballplayer friend of Jeter's.

Close is keeping pretty close-mouthed. Why upset Cashman when Cashman appears ready to raise the verbal war at any and every minute? Beyond that, Close is representing Jeter, who has never raised his voice in public. Cashman got into quite the verbal war last year with another agent, Scott Boras, over Johnny Damon, swearing at Boras according to Yankees people, and wound up acquiring Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson instead. That one didn't exactly work out for either side.

Cashman, first in an interview with ESPNNew York.com, issued a challenge to Jeter, saying, "We've encouraged him to test the market.'' Later, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, Cashman portrayed that remark as only a way to suggest Jeter has the right to "explore and pursue opportunities,'' adding, "I'm sure he already has.'' Cashman insisted he intended "nothing unflattering.''

But Cashman's words and tone lately suggest he is indeed annoyed. Which is baffling since the Yankees have done a lot more talking than Close.

A friend of Jeter's posed this question: Why not? Why can't Jeter leave? The friend pointed out that most of Jeter's dearest friends and allies are gone from the Yankees. Torre is gone. Mattingly is gone. George Steinbrenner is gone. Bernie Williams is gone. Tino Martinez is gone. The Core Four may still be there, but best friend Jorge Posada has been told he's lost his catching job and the other three remain free agents at the moment (all three, including Jeter, were declined arbitration by the Yankees).

Perhaps Yankees people are perplexed because other longtime Yankee stars of this era haven't always played hardball. They often seek to keep their legacy intact, and the result is that ballyhooed interlopers and imports from Jason Giambi to Carl Pavano to Kei Igawa are the ones who get overpaid. Andy Pettitte continues to take under-market deals to stay long after once leaving for a few more dollars back home in Houston. Mariano Rivera sets salary records for closers but no one would say he's overpaid. Retired outfielder Paul O'Neill was always happy to take very reasonable deals.

Jeter was never going to do that. He is competitive in every arena of his life. Jeter beat the Yankees for $5 million in arbitration in 1999 (that might have been the worst professional day of Cashman's highly successful career, as he received a verbal whipping at the hands of the Boss that day), and he got a $189-million, 10-year deal in 2001 after Steinbrenner mistakenly pulled a $118.5-million, seven-year deal off the table only a year earlier.

Close wouldn't comment on his asking price, but knowing Jeter, he noticed A-Rod's extension takes him through age 42. So it's hard to imagine Jeter being thrilled with less than that type of commitment, which would mean a six-year deal. He knows he's brought five championships to the Bronx (though only one of them came during his just-completed contract), and A-Rod only one. Some see Rodriguez's contract as an albatross in waiting. But the Yankees also know that A-Rod puts up 30 HRs and 100 RBIs "even when he's gimpy,'' as one Yankees person put it. Plus, as a power hitter he can eventually be moved to DH.

In 2007, Jeter had to watch his longtime rival get a $275-million extension with $30-million in milestone bonuses when Jeter knows that the brand and the franchise wasn't built on individual achievements but championships and at the time, A-Rod had yet to win one. Jeter won't get into the mud, but if you don't think it rankles him that Rodriguez received an extension after winning no championships for the Yankees that tops Jeter's career financial output, you don't know him.

A-Rod and Jeter have co-existed since A-Rod came to the Yankees in 2004. That doesn't mean Jeter loves him. Jeter has many great qualities, but he doesn't forgive easily, and Cashman's comments surely won't endear him to Jeter.

If Jeter does leave, the Yankees will take hits from fans and media. But as Cashman pointed out, they're used to it. There will be a hit to the brand, but perhaps not a permanent one. Even Ruth ended his career with the Boston Braves. Does anyone even remember or care? Does anyone recall Ruth as anything but a Yankees icon?

Ultimately, the Yankees can't take a chance -- however slim -- that Jeter walks out on them. A few extra million or an extra year won't hurt them. The Yankees' business plan has been so superb that this is like nickels in Warren Buffet's bank account.

The reality is that this has turned into a soap opera, and it didn't need to be that way. The Yankees surely will come up with a few bucks or maybe even add a year to ensure their icon stays, and the likelihood is that they will stage a photo-op makeup.

In the meantime, though, this has turned into the greatest show in town.

• The Yankees are aware now that Mariano Rivera seeks a two-year deal, as was reported first by SI.com. But the guess is that those negotiations won't turn as nasty as the ones involving his good friend Jeter.

• The Tigers made a great move to sign Victor Martinez, whose $50 million contract is only awaiting a physical and signature. He's a very nice compliment to superstar Miguel Cabrera and is believed to have sought slightly less money than Adam Dunn.

• Martinez's departure will hurt the Red Sox, who either didn't want him as much (they offered a two year deal during the season) or mis-read a market that favors the players more than anyone expected. The Red Sox eventually got to $36 million for three years or $42 million for four for V-Mart. But his friend CC Sabathia correctly predicted he would leave soon after the two-year offer was made.

• The Red Sox very much like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and they may have little choice but to see whether their faith is well-placed, with V-Mart and John Buck (Marlins) now off the board. The loss of offense is expected to be made up by coming signings. They are still talking to free agents Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. Kevin Youkilis has been training for a possible move back to third base, according to a Red Sox person, in the event Beltre goes elsewhere (his price also appears a lot higher than Boston or anyone else anticipated). They could sign a free agent first baseman, but the guy they really like is Adrian Gonzalez, who could become a more serious trade target if the Padres don't start the season like they're going to contend.

• Terry Collins was a hit at the press conference introducing him as Mets manager -- though of course it is overshadowed in New York by the Jeter talks. Collins did seem inspirational in his first appearance as Mets manager, but whether Collins can avoid the pitfalls that got him in previous stops in Houston and Anaheim remains to be seen. The two year contract seems to put finalists Chip Hale and Wally Backman in play for 2013. Bob Melvin, the other finalist, is expected to leave the organization.

• Omar Minaya will talk to new Mets GM Sandy Alderson about a position at some point. Minaya has loyalty to Fred Wilpon but it's hard to imagine him staying with all that's happening. It's interesting to note, though, that Collins, Melvin and Hale were all hired for the Mets by Minaya.

• The Mets say centerfield is an open position, but the likelihood is that Carlos Beltran will be asked to move to rightfield, with Angel Pagan the likely centerfielder.

• Good to see great baseball man Willie Randolph land the job as Buck Showalter's bench coach in Baltimore. It was interesting to see two longtime close friends of Showalter -- Brian Butterfield and Don Wakamatsu -- turn the job down, while Randolph, who worked well with Showalter but wasn't seen as particularly close to the autocratic Showalter, take that same job.

• It's time baseball put a stop to that sketchy practice where a team can make a deal with a player to offer arbitration so long as the player agrees to decline it in advance. If a team wants to avoid arbitration with a player, it shouldn't offer it, and it doesn't deserve a draft choice for a player it doesn't want.

• The BBWAA went eight-for-eight in its awards choices this year, with the eighth and final winner, Josh Hamilton, richly deserving the AL MVP that he got on Tuesday. Hamilton and Cabrera, who finished second in the voting, are two great stories of triumph over personal issues, though Hamilton's depths of drug and alcohol addiction were much better documented and obviously a lot deeper than Cabrera's bout with alcohol.

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