The New York Yankees' first offer to Derek Jeter was not for three years and $45 million, but for three years and a figure south of that. So yes, the Yankees have increased the value of their bid in an attempt to keep the captain from pulling a Michael Jordan and putting his golden years in the unworthy hands of the Washington Wizards.
Or the Toledo Mud Hens, as Hank Steinbrenner might suggest.
Only coming off a $189 million contract, Jeter wants another score in excess of $100 million. He still sees himself as a nine-figure asset, even though general manager Brian Cashman and the ruling Steinbrenners see him strictly in eight-figure terms.
This turbulent gulf might look impossible to bridge, but it isn't. If each side is willing to make one painful sacrifice, a deal can be made at a guaranteed four years and, say, $70 million.
One can imagine the curmudgeonly actor, Wilford Brimley, barging into a conference room and reprising his role from the classic scene in "Absence of Malice," the greatest newspaper scene ever shot, and needing about five minutes to set the team and player straight.
So Mr. Cashman, you really, really don't want to go past three years -- tough, you're going to four.
So Mr. Jeter, you really, really don't want to take a pay cut -- tough, you're taking one.
Last month, I guessed that the Yankees and Jeter would find a fair compromise at four years and about $23 million a pop. At the time I overestimated the team's eagerness to compensate Jeter for being Jeter, for succeeding where DiMaggio and Mantle failed -- namely, maintaining his iconic aura without treating others like dirt.
The Yankees aren't moving to $23 million. In fact, they can rattle off dozens of reasons they won't move off three years and a $15 million wage, starting with the fact that they've already increased their original offer, and that theirs is the best deal a 36-year-old coming off his worst season can get.
If they care to, the Yankees can make Jeter crawl all the way back to them. And perhaps they feel inspired to do just that.
Back in the day, Jeter kept beating them at the negotiating table. The shortstop won at arbitration, and a year after George Steinbrenner refused to notarize a seven-year, $118.5 million contract, Jeter took a one-year, $10 million offer before using Alex Rodriguez's $252 million land grab in Texas to make his own 10-year, $189 million deal in the Bronx.
Jeter and his agent, Casey Close, never cut the Yankees any hometown breaks, even after the team gave the shortstop bigger raises than required under the laws of contract renewal in his pre-arbitration days. So when young Yankees approach in search of big pre-arbitration bumps, Cashman often rejects them and offers this simple piece of advice:
Go talk to your captain.
Yes, the Yankees can settle some old tabs here. They have the lumber in their hands this time, not Jeter, and they can swing for the fences if they'd like. They can force the shortstop to come home, iconic tail tucked between iconic legs, at their take-it-or-leave-it price.
But just because they have the motive and power to defeat Jeter, and soundly, doesn't mean they should go ahead and do it. This is where the captain comes in.
For the first time in his otherwise charmed baseball life, Jeter's timing stinks. He needed his contract to expire after 2009, not 2010, and he needed Hank Steinbrenner to be running things instead of Hal.
Hank rewarded A-Rod's cop out of an opt-out with a $305 million deal, including that heavily soiled $30 million homer bonus. Hank would've already met Jeter's nine-figure asking price, and tacked on an extra five mil for every opposite-field hit the captain gets from here to 3,000.
Hal? He's more inclined to ask Jeter to pay for parking.
The agent, Close, is in a tough spot after years of doing a hell of a job for a hell of a client. Jeter isn't what he was in 1999 and 2000, at least not physically, and yet the shortstop still wants to be paid as one of the best players in the game.
Jeter's extreme faith in himself explains why he stands among the enduring Yankees and winners of all time, and why he could go down as the game's greatest all-around shortstop. It explains why he told his trainer, Jason Riley, and longtime Yankees executive Gene Michael that he feels he can play another seven seasons, through his 43rd birthday.
It also explains why Jeter is asking for superstar money. Like an aging Jordan, Jeter can't see himself as anything but, you know, a superstar.
He needs to temper -- or re-direct -- his free-agent ambitions. Jeter should demand a fourth year -- since he wants to play six or seven -- and then talk his ego into accepting a cut in pay.
Jeter is already on record, through his trainer, agreeing to change positions whenever the Yankees decide he can no longer play shortstop at a high level. That means he's not allergic to compromise.
Jeter also agreed to work on his defense -- and change his fitness regimen with Riley's help -- after Cashman requested as much over dinner three years back. That means he forever ranks winning on the field ahead of winning off it.
The captain needs to take another one for the team. For the sake of preserving the purest marriage in sports, Jeter should agree to a salary south of his $21 million in 2010 and his $18.9 million average over the past 10 years.
For the same cause, and for honoring everything Jeter's dignity, grace and talent has meant to the team, the YES Network, the new Stadium and the old brand, the Steinbrenners and Cashman should add a fourth year and another $2.5 million in annual salary to their standing offer.
Sure, the Yankees would be bidding against themselves in the process. But it's worth it to keep Derek Jeter's endgame away from the Washington Wizards and Toledo Mud Hens.