Jeter back where he should be

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 8:59 PM [General]

    TAMPA – Ask Derek Jeter where he will be eating dinner and he might say, “A restaurant.” Ask Jeter where he plans to travel on vacation and he might say, “Someplace warm.” Ask Jeter to describe a conversation with a teammate, a conversation 50,000 people saw, and he might say, “I don’t remember it.” For Jeter, dispensing a modicum of information is a sound strategy.

    Throughout Jeter’s successful career, he has been the master at protecting his privacy. Jeter is politely evasive, routinely declining to discuss injuries, insults or innuendo. At the beginning of Jeter’s career, he decided that he never wanted his own words to create trouble. So Jeter has been selective about what he will discuss, a shrewd way to avoid controversies.

    But Jeter wasn’t able to keep his compelling negotiations with the Yankees from seeping into the news media, a development that annoyed him. When the Yankees formally announced Jeter’s new contract Tuesday, it took Jeter less than two minutes to cite how disappointed he was that some details of his talks had been publicized.

    “From my understanding, it was supposed to be a private negotiation,” Jeter said. “That wasn’t the case. So, yeah, I was angry that some things had gotten out, especially how things were portrayed because, from my understanding, it was a negotiation."

    Jeter agreed to a 3-year, $51 million contract that includes a fourth-year player option for $8 million. Before the sides settled on this deal, Jeter had been seeking a four or five year deal for about $23 million a year.  Jeter said he was perturbed with how he “was portrayed,” and that his reported salary requests were “pretty much inaccurate.” But Jeter also declined to reveal specifics about the negotiations.

    As careful as Jeter is about his words, it was notable that he expressed his disappointment in such a public manner. With Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, to Jeter’s left and General Manager Brian Cashman to Jeter’s right, the 36-year old shortstop offered his assessment of the negotiations. Jeter said it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. The Yankees seemingly concurred.

    “There’s no doubt there were times it was difficult,” Steinbrenner said. “Any negotiation can get messy.”

    These negotiations began to get tidier after Casey Close, Jeter’s agent, contacted Steinbrenner last week and the two sides met here. The Yankees emphasized how much they wanted Jeter and Jeter stressed how much he wanted to be a Yankee. The sides agreed to be creative in trying to eliminate the financial stalemate. Cashman said that resulted in Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, formulating the incentive package that was part of Jeter’s deal.

    “I think once we sat down face to face last week and really decided that enough was enough as far as the media and what was happening up there – that wasn’t good for anybody- we hammered it out,” Steinbrenner said.

    Cashman acknowledged there was “some turbulence” during the negotiations, but, unlike the wounded Jeter, Cashman likened the back-and-forth chatter to a family squabble.

    “Even brothers and sisters fight,” Cashman said. “But, at the end of the day, we all got where we wanted to be, which is him running out to play shortstop for us.”

    Jeter has always insisted that he is concerned with how the Yankees do and doesn’t focus on personal milestones. After Jeter allowed himself one day to talk about the negotiations, he would be wise to return to that same team-first approach. Forget about the personal gripes and get back to the team stuff. Jeter has probably already starting doing that.

    As Jeter explained how pleased he was to be a Yankee, he softened a bit and noted how there are “things that go back and forth” during negotiations.  Jeter said the only thing that would have upset him was if he wasn’t with the Yankees. That is a development no one could have envisioned, no matter how turbulent it got.

    “Of course I need the Yankees,” Jeter said. “And I’d like to think they need me as well.”

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    Yankees' pursuit of Lee continues

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 11:42 AM [General]

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – General manager Brian Cashman fired a football to Billy Eppler, his assistant, in the Yankees’ hotel suite on Monday. Eppler whipped it back as the two men shattered the rules about playing indoors with a ball and acted like kids for a few minutes. It was a brief respite from their serious offseason pursuit of a specific left-handed thrower.

    A few feet from where Cashman and Eppler imitated Drew Brees, the Yankees had laptops and piles of paper resting on a long table. Somewhere in that mix, there was undoubtedly information about Cliff Lee, not that the Yankees needed any updated information on a superb pitcher they are chasing.

    The Yankees have really been chasing Lee since July, when they thought they had acquired him from the Seattle Mariners. Now the Yankees have locked their focus on Lee at the winter meetings and seem prepared to give him a six-year contract. It is uncertain how much the Yankees are willing to pay him, but it is likely to be at least $140 million. The New York Post reported that the Yankees might go as high as $150 million.

    When I asked Cashman if he knew the maximum proposal that he would make to Lee, he said that he did. Of course, he wouldn’t reveal that amount during an interview on the YES Network, but the Yankees aren’t delusional about Lee’s hefty price tag. The Rangers are also pursuing Lee, although it seems unlikely that they will make a six-year offer. Cashman seems willing to do that.

    “We’re going to take advantage of the time frame while we’re down here, meeting with him as many times as necessary to make it hard for him to go anywhere but choose New York,” Cashman said.

    As Darek Braunecker, Lee’s agent, stood in the lobby of the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel on Monday, he was in a jovial mood. Why wouldn’t he be? Braunecker is representing the jewel of the free agent class, an elite pitcher in a free agent market that has no pitchers like him. The Yankees don’t want to have a Plan B if they fail to sign Lee because any Plan B would be a major disappointment.

    “It’s good to be Cliff Lee,” Braunecker said.

    Cashman met with Braunecker in his suite on Monday and will surely speak to the agent again on Tuesday. As part of Cashman’s courting of Lee, he visited the pitcher in Arkansas. Braunecker joked that Cashman “offered to come back as many times as necessary.” Perhaps Braunecker wasn’t joking. Maybe Cashman would rent an apartment in Lee’s home state if that helped him secure Lee.

    Two years ago, Cashman bolted from the winter meetings in Las Vegas and visited CC Sabathia at Sabathia’s home in California. Cashman said that he wasn’t going to leave until Sabathia had agreed to a contract, which Sabathia did when the Yankee offer mushroomed to seven years and $161 million. Sabathia later told teammates that he wasn’t expecting the Yankees to add a seventh year.

    I don’t think Cashman will offer Lee a seven-year contract, even though there has been speculation that another team might do that. But I don’t think the Yankees will have to offer Lee seven years to secure him. Several baseball executives agreed, saying that the Yankees will probably sign Lee to a six-year deal.

    As Cashman stood in his suite on Monday, I asked the GM if he thought Lee would sign a deal before the meetings ended on Thursday. Cashman wasn’t sure. Cashman said he would “love to be in a position to say, ‘Hey, Cliff Lee is going to be a New Yorker,” but he wouldn’t predict if that will happen. For now, Cashman is still chasing Lee, the pitcher he’s been chasing for a while.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter.

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    New Jeter deal includes creative fourth-year options

    Saturday, December 4, 2010, 6:20 PM [General]

    When the Yankees met with Derek Jeter last Tuesday, both sides promised to be creative in trying to bridge a gulf that existed in their contract negotiations. Less than a week later, that’s exactly what the Yankees and their shortstop did in finally agreeing to a deal Saturday. The deal is pending Jeter passing a physical.

    Jeter and the Yankees agreed to a three-year, $51 million contract that could also include a fourth year. Jeter has a player option for $8 million in the fourth year, which could boost his guaranteed money to $56 million. In addition, Jeter has the chance to earn up to $9 million in incentives in the fourth year.

    The deal averages to $17 million for the first three years, which includes a $3 million buyout in the fourth year. If Jeter doesn’t exercise the $8 million option in 2014, he will make $51 million. If Jeter exercises the $8 million option, he loses the $3 million buyout and is guaranteed $56 million over the life of the contract. But Jeter can increase his fourth-year salary by reaching some incentives. That is where the Yankees and Jeter got creative.

    Jeter’s contract includes a point system in which he earns points for winning the Most Valuable Player Award or finishing in the top six in the voting, for winning the Silver Slugger Award, for being named MVP in the World Series or the League Championship Series, or for winning the Gold Glove. If and when Jeter notches any of those incentives, he will earn an undisclosed amount of points. After three years, those points will translate to a dollar amount, which will be added to Jeter’s salary in 2014. Jeter can earn as much as $9 million in incentives, so the maximum amount he could earn in the final year of the deal is $17 million. The most Jeter could earn in all four years is $65 million.

    If Jeter doesn’t maximize the $9 million in incentives across the first three seasons, he also has the chance to earn points in the fourth year of the contract and therefore add to his $8 million salary. In addition, Jeter agreed to defer some money in the deal.

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    Jeter, Yanks agree on deal

    Saturday, December 4, 2010, 11:39 AM [General]

    Derek Jeter has officially agreed to a three-year contract with the Yankees for between $15 and $17 million a year, according to a person directly involved in the negotiations. The deal includes a fourth-year option that isn't a vesting or club option. The deal was consummated on Saturday afternoon and is pending a physical.

    The fourth year of the deal was important to Jeter, who said in spring training that he wanted to play four or five more seasons. But the Yankees didn’t want to guarantee a fourth year to Jeter, who had the worst season of his career when he batted .270 in 2010 and who will turn 37 years old in June. The sides vowed to be creative in trying to secure a deal, which is why they were finalizing a hybrid option that will include various elements and won’t be fully guaranteed. The sides met deep into the night on Friday and were talking again on Saturday.

    As part of Jeter’s deal, the Yankees have convinced the shortstop to defer an undisclosed amount of money. Mariano Rivera, who has agreed to a 2-year, $30 million deal, has also agreed to defer an undisclosed amount. The Yankees are confident that the contracts with their two legendary players will be completed by the time the Winter Meetings start in Orlando on Monday.

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    Promising signs on the Jeter front

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 7:35 PM [General]

    The meeting lasted about four hours on Tuesday night, hours in which the Yankees talked, Derek Jeter listened and then Jeter talked and the Yankees listened. While there has been contentiousness in the negotiations between two sides that need each other, this meeting was respectful and polite.

    Although Jeter and the Yankees didn't come close to an agreement on Tuesday, people who have been briefed on the discussion said it was a vital development in the negotiations. The meeting enabled the Yankees to reiterate that they wanted Jeter and allowed Jeter to reiterate that he wanted to finish his career as a Yankee. After the verbal sparring over Jeter's value, delivering those words face-to-face was important to igniting the stagnant talks.

    Casey Close, Jeter's agent, contacted Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees' managing general partner, on Tuesday to request the meeting. Before Close called, the sides hadn't formally negotiated in over three weeks. Close, Jeter and a lawyer from Creative Artists, the agency that represents Jeter, met with Steinbrenner, general manager Brian Cashman and Randy Levine, the Yankees' President in Tampa.

    The Yankees have offered Jeter a 3-year, $45 million contract, a proposal that they believe is strong and fair. At the time the Yankees made their offer to Jeter, who is 36, it would have made him the highest-paid middle infielder in the Major Leagues. Troy Tulowitzki has since signed a 7-year, $134 million extension with the Rockies, meaning he will earn $157 million across the next 10 years. That computes to an average salary of $15.7 million for a power-hitting shortstop who is a decade younger than Jeter.

    Following a sluggish season in which Jeter batted a career low .270 and had a career low on base percentage of .340, the Yankees feel they are compensating Jeter handsomely. Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins and Chase Utley of the Phillies, two of the premier middle infielders in baseball, have average salaries of about $12 million a year.

    When the Yankees have compared Jeter to current players like Ramirez and Utley, Close has argued that Jeter should be compared to Hall of Famers like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio because he has helped guide the team to five championships. Close mentioned the idea of a 6-year, $150 million deal, but Jeter is now asking for a 4 or 5-year deal for about $23 million a year.

    Since the Yankees have offered Jeter $15 million a year and Jeter has asked for $23 million, some observers have proposed that the sides should split the difference and settle on $19 million. The Yankees don't want to do that because they feel that they would be bidding against themselves. There hasn't been a team that has publicly expressed interest in signing Jeter. The Dodgers and Giants recently signed Juan Uribe and Miguel Tejada, respectively, as their shortstops. Also, the Yankees don't want to inflate their offer simply because Jeter's side has asked for such a lucrative salary.

    The Yankees are reluctant to increase their offer to Jeter, but it is possible that they would boost it slightly if that helped finalize a deal. As the parties separated on Tuesday, they agreed to be creative in trying to forge an agreement and agreed to speak again soon.

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