Hal Steinbrenner went on the radio in New York on Tuesday and wound up making back page headlines when he talked about the upcoming contract negotiations with Derek Jeter. He said that he wanted Jeter (and Mariano Rivera) back with the team in 2011, but said that they wouldn't simply be given whatever they want because of all they've done for the Yankees.
"There's always the possibility that things could get messy," Steinbrenner said. "Our fans are very emotional, and that's what we love about them, but I've got to try to do my job on behalf of the partnership and everybody involved in the organization. Hank and I need to keep a level head and realize that we're running a business here."
If Hal's serious about prioritizing running a business, there wouldn't be much question about what to do with Jeter. You'd offer him one year with an option at around $12-15 million with incentives because that's about the very top of the market for a player with his current skill set. There would be a chance that Jeter would balk at such an offer and leave the team. People would huff and puff, the way they did when Bernie Williams left, but the Steinbrenners would be confident that they'd still come to the Stadium because people always keep coming back to the Stadium.
Don't count on that happening, though. These are the same guys who said Alex Rodriguez had no home with the Yankees if he opted out of his contract, then gave him megabucks while negotiating against themselves.
Saying things could get messy is a good way of making headlines, but it's hard to figure out what else anyone expected him to say at the start of a contract negotiation. You won't find many business schools teaching people to publicly admit that your prospective employee has a value far beyond what they are capable of producing at their job and that you will give them whatever amount of money they'd like for the opportunity to sign their checks.
What's more, for all the talk about changing the way their father did things in the past, the Yankees haven't shown much of a willingness to not put their money where their mouths are. They may have drawn a line in the sand here and there, but they haven't let money get in the way of something they really wanted to do. It's impossible to imagine that they will start with Jeter, Rivera or Cliff Lee, which is why there really is a chance things could get messy in the near future.
The Yankees have talked a lot about becoming younger, more athletic and more flexible in the years to come, but they haven't actually done anything to make that change. Pursuing Lee and bringing back Jeter and Rivera certainly isn't a step in that direction, even if it is probably a big step toward a title in 2011. It's also a big step toward a 2012 and 2013 when nearly the entire core of the team is on the wrong side of their primes because the Yankees once again prioritized winning now over the youthful infusions that they have claimed they're interested in.
You can't really have it both ways, and the Yankees have consistently chosen the path that keeps them stocked with big names and big salaries. When you have a billionaire's playground to fill on a nightly basis, it is probably impossible to do things in a different way.
That, not just winning and losing baseball games, is the real business that Hal is running and that's what will drive their decisions.