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Sweeny Says: Getting A Little Messy

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Derek Jeter and Brian Cashman

Derek Jeter (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images), Brian Cashman (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Remember when Hal Steinbrenner said things might get a little messy in negotiations with Derek Jeter?  We’ve seen numbers floated when both sides said everything would remain private, Jeter’s agent Casey Close saying he’s baffled, Brian Cashman saying the Yanks are being fair, Yankee President Randy Levine saying Jeter is allowed to test the market, and here we are two days before Thanksgiving and still no deal.  Does this count as messy?

I’ve been told many times since last spring something that continues to be true:  there is no such thing as an easy negotiation.

Word first leaked last week that the Yanks’ first offer to Jeter is for 3 years for $45 million.  To me that’s a pretty good starting point for Jeter, considering that a couple executives told me a few weeks ago they thought Jeter would get more in the range of 3 years for $30-$40 million.

So do the Yankees have to come up from that initial offer?  Probably.  That’s how these things work.  But are the Yankees better off giving Jeter an extra year or putting more into their three-year proposal?  In 2007 the Yankees weren’t budging off their three-year offer to Jorge Posada until the Mets threw their hat into the ring and the Yankees coughed up the fourth year to lock up their catcher.

At that point in time the Yankees didn’t feel they had a suitable alternative, so they had little choice but to offer the extra year.  This time the extra year is a little scary because of what the Yankees might feel is already the beginning of Jeter’s decline.  But is anybody else knocking on Jeter’s door to help drive up the price?  Could there be a team willing to try and steal Jeter away?  Say 2-years, $40 million?  One agent I spoke to this week said Casey Close isn’t doing his job if he hasn’t already spoken to a few other teams, even if those teams think Jeter leaving the Yankees is unthinkable.  On the other hand, the same agent told me that Brian Cashman isn’t doing his job if he hasn’t already explored shortstop options in case the unthinkable happens.

Maybe the Yankees will have to offer Jeter more money per year or maybe they’ll have to go beyond three years.  Any other ways the Yankees can add value to the contract and still give themselves some protection in the event of a performance drop-off?  The Yankees don’t typically offer bonus clauses in their contracts, so an incentive based deal is probably not in the cards.

But very recently the Yankees did use an incentive-based option to lure back one of their iconic players.  Mariano Rivera’s contract for 2005 and 2006 called for a vesting option based on number of games finished in those two years, triggering his option for 2007.  The Yankees were a little concerned about Rivera’s durability (silly thought now, but valid for a pitcher entering his mid to late 30’s as Rivera was at the time) and the concern they have with Jeter could be solved the same way based on a formula used for another iconic player with a different team.

The final year of Chipper Jones’s contract is a team option for $7 million, a cut from his previous salary of $13 million.  But there are another $6 million worth of escalating incentives for games played, a reasonable way for Jones to make his money back and protect the Braves from declining performance at the same time.

So while the Yankees will have to offer a lot of real money, perhaps they can assuage their longer-term fears by offering an incentive-triggered option with various tiers.  No matter how it happens, I think we all still believe the Yankees will sign Derek Jeter and everyone will make nice.  But every day it goes on, it reminds us of what might be the only point in this column that can’t be argued—there is no such thing as an easy negotiation.

*And then there’s Cliff Lee, who’s already had meetings with the Yankees and Rangers, and was expected to meet with at least two more teams.  When we get to the Winter Meetings, which begin December 6th in Orlando, the media corps following Darek Braunecker (Lee’s agent) will probably resemble the parade of paparazzi following Kate Middleton.

It might be a week or two after the meetings before Lee finally puts on his new cap and jersey for the cameras, but don’t we all still think it will be the interlocking NY and pinstripes?

The interesting part is, of course, how much money?  I think we all believe CC Sabathia money is where this ends up, around $23 million per year.  The length could drag things out, but anything over four years is a deal that usually benefits the player more than the team, and when the best guy on the market is as good as Cliff Lee, a team usually has no choice but to pay up and hope the first three years are absolutely prime.

Here’s an interesting question to consider when the Yankees get into serious negotiations with Lee.  Will Lee seek an opt-out clause?  His agent, Darek Braunecker, successfully put one into A.J. Burnett’s contract with Toronto that allowed him to break out of his five-year deal with the Blue Jays after only three years (and sign with the Yankees).  Lee’s close friend CC Sabathia also has an opt-out clause in his deal (remember?) that makes it possible, although unlikely, that he becomes a free agent after next season.

Given the state of the Yankees as a team in transition from one era to the next over the next few years (it is realistic that none of the Core Four will still be here in as little as three years from now) I wouldn’t put it past Braunecker and Lee to seek an opt-out during these negotiations.

*New Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild is a veteran coach and well respected.  A lot of people are pointing to A.J. Burnett (and to a lesser degree Joba Chamberlain) and hinting that Rothschild will be a success of failure based solely on his ability to turn those two pitchers around.  While that is clearly the hope, it is wholly unfair to Rothschild.  How many pitching coaches has Burnett had in his career?  We’re going to judge Rothschild on Burnett’s success in 2011?  I don’t think so.

*Some of the free agents that signed last week had been linked to the Yankees, at least as far as the Yanks having some level of interest.  But both John Buck (Marlins) and Joaquin Benoit (Tigers) signed three-year deals and as much as the Yankees liked those players, they were not about to commit three years to either one.

*The Yankees have been holding Fantasy Camp at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for several years now.  Men ranging from their 30’s to their 80’s hang out with Yankee greats of the past and spend a week playing baseball in pinstripes.

This January here’s something a little different—Women’s Mini-Fantasy Camp.  This time it’s not just a guy thing.  Tino Martinez headlines the list of ex-Yankee instructors.  Any interested ladies can visit here for more information http://mlb.mlb.com/nyy/fan_forum/fantasycamp_women.jsp.

Sweeny Murti

Yankees@wfan.com

www.twitter.com/YankeesWFAN

pixy Sweeny Says: Getting A Little Messy
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