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No time for fiscal restraint regarding Jeter

No time for fiscal restraint regarding Jeter

NEW YORK -- If there's one other thing the Yankees are great at besides raising World Series banners, it's flexing their financial muscles to get deals done. And that's why their reluctance to do it for Derek Jeter, arguably their most important free agent, is so perplexing.

The same team that once allocated $46 million for Kei Igawa suddenly wants to play hardball with Jeter, and despite what colleague Anthony Castrovince believes, this is no time for a financial epiphany by the Yankees.

Sure, the two sides are still expected to eventually come to terms on a deal for the captain, but these negotiations have always been more about the process than the outcome. Right now, that process is overly complex and perhaps even a little bit ugly -- and it could only get worse as the offseason rolls on.

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So it's up to the Yankees to put a stop to this and make sure Jeter's final years in the Bronx aren't bitter ones. Lucky for them, one great way to do it is one they know well: Pay up.

Will Jeter wind up being somewhat overpaid in New York? Absolutely. Even the three-year, $45 million offer Jeter's camp has dismissed is more than a 36-year-old singles hitter likely would get in the open market, which makes the deal they reportedly seek -- five or six years at $20-something-million annually -- appear rather outlandish.

It's not as if compromising with Jeter -- maybe by meeting him halfway, or maybe even by agreeing somewhere closer to Jeter's side -- is going to cripple the Yankees financially. And thanks to their fruitful revenue streams, they would quickly make up for it anyway, which means all a little conciliation would do is please Jeter and, thusly, their fans.

Jeter is the most iconic figure in the most decorated franchise's history since Mickey Mantle. He is among the most celebrated winners of all-time -- any era, any sport. And despite being the face of the most frequently-scrutinized team and a good-looking bachelor in America's most vibrant city, he has maintained a spotless track record, something other athletes with his level of influence -- guys like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods -- simply haven't.

"There's a reason the Yankees themselves have stated Derek Jeter is their modern-day Babe Ruth," Close, Jeter's longtime agent, was quoted as saying recently by The New York Daily News. "Derek's significance to the team is much more than just stats. And yet the Yankees' negotiating strategy remains baffling."

Despite his age and his down year in 2010, it's a safe bet Jeter still has a few more years of elite play left in him.

The Yankees believe that, and they also believe their proposal does a fair job of taking that into account while also addressing those "intangibles" that keep getting mentioned. But it doesn't matter what they believe is a fair market price for an aging shortstop who's coming off his worst offensive season and is lackluster defensively.

What matters is that Jeter -- because he can cite so many examples on the opposite end of the spectrum -- only sees insult and disrespect thus far.

Jeter was there when the Yankees handed Carl Pavano $40 million, there when they gave seven years and $120 million to Jason Giambi, there when they inked a 41-year-old Randy Johnson to a $32 million extension, and there when Roger Clemens was deemed worthy of $18.7 million for four months of his age-45 season.

Now he sees a 35-year-old Alex Rodriguez -- a player nowhere close to him in terms of Yankees tenure, influence and mystique -- getting ready to cash in an average annual salary of $25 million over the next seven seasons, and Jeter can only be mystified by three years at $15 million each.

As if that weren't enough, there seems to have been some public jabs, too.

General manager Brian Cashman said he has "encouraged [Jeter] to test the market and see if there's something he would prefer other than" what is being offered. President Randy Levine declared "this isn't a licensing deal or a commercial rights deal. He's a baseball player." And Hank Steinbrenner bellowed, "I don't feel we owe anybody anything monetarily."

But this isn't the time for hard-line stances. This is the time -- even if it's the absolute last time -- for the Yankees to do what they've done so many other times: Bid against their affluent selves for the mere sense of getting a deal done quickly and peacefully.

Yes, despite all the drama, it would still be unthinkable for Jeter to be anywhere but the Bronx in 2011. But he'd only be playing unhappy if he felt getting there meant being disrespected and ridiculed.

What if he finished his career elsewhere because he was too prideful to be defied by his longtime employer? What if Jeter ended up with the Giants or the Dodgers or -- dare I say it -- the Red Sox?

The Yankees need to make sure that possibility is barely entertained, and every second spent pointlessly mudslinging in this staring contest only makes that unfathomable idea seem more realistic.

Besides, what's a few extra million for the most lavish franchise in sports history?

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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