By Neil Keefe
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And Sweeny Murti
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So about those smooth negotiations between Derek Jeter and the Yankees

The season has been over for nearly a month and the Yankees are just getting around to making an offer for the face of their franchise and the most important player of this generation in the organization. The last thing the Yankees want is to have these negotiations drag on to the point where it becomes a public disaster and creates problems with their fan base. Well, guess what? We are slowly getting to that point.

The last time I talked to Sweeny Murti was three weeks ago after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs, and we wrapped up what was a disappointing finish to the 2010 season. During the season I talked with Sweeny Murti twice a month to review the state of the Yankees. This offseason I plan to do the same, and it just so happens that we weren’t able to make it to Thanksgiving without having to discuss what is becoming a public relations situation for the Yankees.

Sweeny joined me to talk about Derek Jeter’s contract negotiations and other hot stove news involving the Yankees. Here is a transcript of our conversation.

Keefe: The report about Derek Jeter wanting four-plus years and the Yankees being prepared to only offer three has become the biggest story of the young offseason. We have talked about this several times throughout the season, and I am still behind my original offer of at least four years and $100 million for Derek Jeter, and I am aware that many people think that is outrageous, but I have explained it in depth before.

The Yankees gave extra years to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada when they were free agents and have overpaid for almost every single player they have signed as a free agent. He is more valuable than other player in the organization and he should be paid accordingly. How are you going to tell Derek Jeter that you aren’t going to give him that extra year or years when they already have with nearly ever other player?

Murti: They might have to. You have to remember that those guys became free agents at different times. A-Rod was coming off a year in which he hit 54 home runs and Posada was coming off a year in which he hit .338. They still had a lot of playing time left. You’re talking about a guy now that the Yankees have already had talks about cutting his playing time. The business side of it says that he’s on the downside, and yes, you still want him, but you can’t commit that many years to him.

I keep saying over and over again that it’s such a huge difference between this year and last year, that if Derek Jeter was a free agent after last season you wouldn’t even blink. This would be a five-year deal or six-year deal for $20 million or more per year. Coming off the year he did is what’s making the team a little more anxious about it. It’s all part of the negotiations, and if you’re the Yankees and you go into the negotiations with a bigger amount, you are going to be on the hook for it.

I don’t think this is where it ends, but this is a real good starting point as far as Jeter is concerned. If you look back a couple of weeks ago to when I polled executives and agents, their average number was about three years and $17 million per year. And those numbers came from a lot of people who are gauging his market value at $10 or $12 million per year.

When Hal Steinbrenner made his comments a couple of week ago about running a business and wanting to be responsible, the people I have talked to say that Hal Steinbrenner means that stuff. He’s not his old man in that he isn’t going to talk about being responsible and then goes and throws money at everyone without any limits. Hal is running this like a business and the idea that Derek Jeter will take a pay cut from the $21 million that he made this past season, I think that seems like something that he is sticking to.

Keefe: I am with you with the notion if Jeter had his 2009 in 2010, but I try to refrain from talking about it because it didn’t happen as much as I wish it had, and it’s hard to justify a hypothetical situation to crazed Yankees fans, especially on Twitter.

I find it hard to believe that this deal is about money, and anyone who thinks it is kidding themselves. The Yankees spent $46 million to get Kei Igawa, so he could be a Triple-A All-Star, and they gave Carl Pavano $39.95 to not pitch, and neither time did it stop them from going out and spending many more millions in those same years to try to fix their problems. The Yankees have the ability to overpay and outspend every other team in the league, and it never once has become a problem. So why make it one now?

The Red Sox like to always blame their inability to sign free agents the Yankees end up signing on monetary problems, but then the Red Sox owners go and pay nearly $500 million for a soccer team a year after they said they came just short of signing Mark Teixeira and months after Theo Epstein said the Red Sox weren’t able to land Kerry Wood because of money. I don’t want the Yankees to become the Red Sox in that they blame their problems or negotiating tactics on money. We all know they have the money. How are you going to say to Derek Jeter that A.J. Burnett is worth more per year than him?

Murti: That’s all fair. I think the way you have to look at it though is that you can’t hold past mistakes against the Yankees. Those things didn’t work out, but this is a different situation altogether. Your point makes sense in that the Yankees should give Jeter what he wants, but when you’re operating within a budget (Yes, the Yankees do even though it’s bigger than everyone else’s and we kind of laugh at that) it impacts other parts of the team.

What if Jeter hits .250 next year and you’re locked into him for the next three years at $20 million a year? You’re talking about really hindering your ability to do things that would make the team better. It’s not like whatever the Yankees give Jeter is going to keep them from throwing tons of money at Cliff Lee. Where it usually hurts the Yankees is when they draw the line with some of their bench guys or relief pitchers. They think, “You know, I’m not ready to give a solid bench player or reliever $4 million when I can get a guy cheaper at $2 million,” even if the cheaper guy has lesser ability.

This is just as important especially this year going forward. The bullpen is always a work in progress and it didn’t get stabilized in 2010 until Kerry Wood got here and now he’s a free agent and you have to replace him, so you have to go out and fix the bullpen a little bit. You have to strengthen the bench because you’re talking about having a rookie catcher and a shortstop and third baseman that the team’s admitted need days off than they had in the past. The Yankees never used to use their bench guys. The Yankees have had an All-Star lineup and their players all play 150 games every year, so it was never worth it to them to get a good bench guy. And even if they wanted to get good bench guys, no one would want to come play here because they could make more money somewhere else and get more at-bats and more playing time. If you’re overpaying in one area, those are the areas where you end up hurting yourself down the road.

Jeter might hit .280 or .290 or .300 the next couple of years, but you don’t know that. You have to protect yourself with the idea that he might decline even further than he did this year, and do you really want to be locked in at five or six years at those costs for someone who isn’t producing at a high level anymore?

Keefe: I understand that you don’t want to lock up a roster spot to Jeter when he can’t play anymore, but I think he deserves that luxury. Though I do agree with the idea that his contract will have a negative impact on other areas of the team like the bullpen and the bench, but hey, there are a lot of other absurd contracts on this team.

Maybe I’m too big of a Derek Jeter guy, but the drop-off we saw this year after he finished second in the MVP voting last year just seems like it was too big to not have a reason other than age. You were around Jeter every day this year and have been for the last decade, do you think there was an injury with Jeter that could have caused such a drastic decline that he just never made public? That’s the theory I’m buying into.

Murti: Yes, that’s always possible. I remember two years ago that was the case. He had some problems earlier in the year when he was dragging a little, and he was bothered by something, but he didn’t make it known what it was, and he was able to bounce back from that a couple of times with some hot streaks. He had one in late May and early June, and then another one in September. That’s why I think it’s important more than ever to have a quality backup for him and not play him as much because he’s getting to an age where it’s not as easy to say, “OK, I can play with this.” One thing Jeter always says is, “You can play hurt, but you can’t play injured.” But he’s getting to a point in his career where it’s not as easy to play hurt. It’s all these little things that catch up to you a little bit more at this stage of your career.

Keefe: Thanksgiving is just a week away at this point and Derek Jeter is still unemployed as crazy as that sounds. Do you think that this deal is going to get done in the next week or so, or is this something that is going to drag on into December?

Murti: I think we kind of hope that it gets done fast. If you told me back in February or March that he would still be a free agent at this point in time, I would have been shocked. I thought this would have been done very quickly and as soon as the season ended. Unfortunately I think the type of year Jeter had and the type of plan the Yankees have going forward is what is holding this back. When we say there is no such thing as an easy negotiation, this is what we’re talking about. This is what people have been telling me really all year in relation to Jeter, that as easy as this might be and yes its easy for everyone to say he’s going to be back with the Yankees, but this is the hard part, the numbers are the hard part. I think that it can move quickly here because you’re not going into this bidding with another team. This is just the Yankees and Derek Jeter, and once you start that process I think you can knock it out pretty quickly. At least that’s the hope.

Keefe: OK, aside from the contract negotiations surrounding No. 2, there has been a lot of other Yankees related hot stove talk. The most intriguing is the idea that the Yankees could possibly be in the running to land Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks, which is a move that would be a great way to start the holiday season. What is it going to cost for the Yankees to acquire Upton?

Murti: He’s an interesting player because of how young he is and how good he can be. The Yankees are pretty set in the outfield right now. I think the Diamondbacks are looking to get back young players in return otherwise the Yankees could probably take Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson (a little bit older of a guy who is making some money) and move him out. But I don’t think that’s where the needs are for the Diamondbacks, so it makes it a little bit harder. Could the Yankees use prospects to trade for him? Sure, but then you’re crowded in the outfield. I don’t think that’s really what they’re looking at. According to Jon Heyman, the Red Sox are apparently more into this than the Yankees are, and it makes sense because they have a greater need in the outfield at this particular point.

Keefe: Brian Cashman left Orlando early to continue his search for a pitching coach. After the Yankees gave Joe Girardi his pitching coach in Dave Eiland last time, I would think it would make the most sense to let Girardi pick his guy this time given the way reports say it played out between Girardi and Eiland this season. That guy would seem to be Mike Harkey. What have you heard about the possibility of Harkey becoming the pitching coach?

Murti: Last time they gave Girardi his pitching coach. This time I think he’s going to be a little bit more involved in the process and that involves Mike Harkey. I’m actually surprised that it wasn’t Rick Kranitz. I don’t know yet why that didn’t happen because he was available and Girardi’s pitching coach in Florida, and I thought he would have a real good chance of at least getting an interview here, but he ended up in Milwaukee as the Brewers pitching coach. Harkey is a guy that Girardi has a long relationship with and a lot of trust in. Harkey didn’t have as much input in the past as you would have liked in the last couple of years, but that might have been because you don’t want to step on the pitching coach’s toes in Dave Eiland. I have been told that Harkey has good relationships with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett among others, so maybe he can be an effective pitching coach. He might end up being the guy and it’s an important position to have, but I don’t think the Yankees are going to win or lose the World Series based on who their pitching coach is.

Pedro Feliciano is a name that has come up in the last week or so in connection to the Yankees, and I am a big Pedro Feliciano fan. I think he would be a nice addition to the bullpen, and would also make Mets fans cringe to see him continue his success across town. Brian Cashman has made it clear that he wants another lefty in the bullpen to compliment the flawless Boone Logan, and I think Feliciano could and should be that guy.

Murti: Well, they gave Damaso Marte a three-year deal and that’s not looking too smart right now. I think if they can get Feliciano to agree to short enough terms, it’s definitely something they would consider. But just remember it’s not imperative for them to go into Opening Day with a second lefty behind Boone Logan. Yes, they want some depth there rather than just going in with Logan, in case of injury of effectiveness or whatever, but you’re talking about something that makes you effective in a playoff series, and definitely at points of the season too, but you don’t need that second lefty for 162 games. It’s something that if you don’t get that second lefty now, you do have time to get him during the season. Cashman has called it a priority, so you know he wants to go out and get one this winter, but if it’s not there, I don’t think its a great tragedy. I think you are able to work and see what comes available to you during the course of the season.

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