Via Jeff Passan:
The quickly devolving Derek Jeter negotiations might not be the New York Yankees’ only problem. They’re playing hardball with Mariano Rivera too.
While the free-agent closer is seeking a two-year deal, the Yankees are currently inclined to offer him only one year, according to a source familiar with the team’s thinking. And by doing so, they risk doing to Rivera what they’ve already done with Jeter: muck up talks that could’ve – and should’ve – gone smoothly.
In taking a hard line with their two biggest stars since Mickey Mantle, the Yankees are banking on the greatest leverage they’ve got: the notion that Jeter and Rivera wouldn’t fathom wearing another uniform. It is a canny strategy. For Jeter or Rivera to walk away wouldn’t merely take a contract offer of less than they believe they’re worth. It would necessitate a profound insult, and the Yankees expect the players to interpret the team’s tack as business, not personal.
With Rivera, it could easily remain so. The chasm between one year and two years isn’t insurmountable, and the Yankees are already prepared to give him a raise from the $15 million he made in 2010. Whether Rivera meets the Yankees in the middle at one year with a club option or holds firm at two years and expects the team to honor his contributions and continued dominance will determine whether the negotiations turn as contentious as Jeter’s.
And do not undersell the three-year, $45 million offer the Yankees sent their shortstop’s way as a mere negotiating parry. It was, to the Jeter camp, a declaration – not of war, not yet, but not of an easily obtained, peaceful treatise, either. Between asking Jeter to take a nearly one-third pay cut from last season and spinning in the media that any delay is Jeter’s fault, the Yankees are playing a dangerous game – one fueled by an arrogant belief that Jeter wouldn’t at least entertain the possibility of going elsewhere.
This is a referendum on what two men mean to a franchise – whether the Yankees are the Yankees because of their history or because of who constitutes them at any particular moment. The mystique died in the ’80s when the team was bereft of stars beyond Don Mattingly as well as befallen by a miserable record, so an answer isn’t obvious. If the Yankees don’t bend with Jeter and Rivera, their thinking is obvious: The uniform is more important than those wearing it.
Jeter and Rivera each realize the Yankees don’t want to make another mistake with an aging player, not with Alex Rodriguez and his bum hip contracted for another seven years and, if he breaks Barry Bonds’ home run record, $204 million. The players also don’t want to be penalized for mistakes Yankees leadership made, and if anyone deserves special treatment, it is them.
So their agents counteroffer, and they wait and wonder whether the Yankees will budge. Jeter’s desires are unknown, but they’re surely more than three years and more than $15 million a pop. Rivera wants a second year, and because the news so revolves around Jeter, the Yankees haven’t bothered making an issue of it publicly. Which is, by no means, to say they’re above that.
Jeter aside, betcha there’s a market outside of Yankeeland for Rivera – even at his age. And, I would not put it past him to go somewhere else if Brian Cashman plays chicken for too long on this one.