The smart way to pay Derek Jeter

NEW YORK -- We can only hope that Hal Steinbrenner's first salvo in the Derek Jeter situation was more about provisions and not money.

Money just can't be the issue when it comes to re-signing the Yankees' captain and shortstop.

The Yankees have plenty of money to ink Jeter, now a free agent. There is no salary cap to stop them from giving him a lot of loot. Plus, no matter what they give him, it won't hamper them from adding other pieces to the squad in an attempt to win championship No. 28.

And in no way does that also mean there's a blank checkbook for Jeter, who at 36 is coming off the worst overall season of his 16-year career.

Still, it was weird to hear Steinbrenner, the managing general partner, tell Michael Kay on his 1050 ESPN New York radio show that things "could get messy'' in negotiating with Jeter, whose 10-year, $189 million deal expired Monday night when the World Series ended.

"Who knows,'' Steinbrenner said. "You just never know with these things.

"Both parties need to be happy with the deal, and that may make things more complicated; I don't know.''

Enter the provisions.

First, the Yankees shouldn't ask Jeter to take a pay cut. He should make the same $22 million salary he made this past season. He should be offered a three-year deal, and his raise should simply be built in incentives. If Jeter bounces back from his .270 batting average this past season -- a 64-point drop from the 2009 season -- he'll likely be an All-Star and finish among the top vote-getters for major awards, and thus he will earn more. If he doesn't, he won't.

In return, the Yankees get Jeter's word that if things don't improve, he'll go along with changes. And that could range from dropping in the batting order next season to moving his position in 2012. Jeter would have to agree to being open to the idea of moving to third or left field.

So many great players changed positions late in their careers, including Yankees icon Mickey Mantle, who played first base once he could no longer roam center field.

Such a move doesn't diminish anything a player has done in his career. It just happens when you play a long time in a sport in which the players get younger and faster every year.

This is no time to play hardball on either side. Jeter wants to be a Yankee for life, and the Yankees want Jeter to be a Yankee for life. Sounds like a good marriage.

It's the money talk that seems to muddy the water, especially when you hear the Yankees start to cry about paying. That's what it sounded like when Steinbrenner talked about the Yankees being a business. And, indeed, they are.

But let's be honest, over the years, it has never stopped the Yankees from giving out a lot of millions to some pretty lousy players. Can you say, "Carl Pavano?''

For sure, they have enough money to pay Jeter at this point in his career and make him happy, make him feel wanted even if he showed his first signs of aging this past season.

There's no guarantee, however, that this past season was the beginning of the end. Jeter easily could bounce back and return to form. He is entitled to a bad year, even at contract time.

No Yankees fan will ever accept the notion that the Yankees have to stay on some imaginary budget as the reason they couldn't sign Jeter, a fan favorite and a guy who brought both class and prestige back to the Yankees' uniform.

It's not just about paying people for the past and ignoring the future. Plus, Jeter was well paid for those years he helped the Yankees win those five championships since he arrived. He also was given all those parades for those past accomplishments.

That's why incentives and provisions are so important here.

The Yankees' main goal in re-signing Jeter is that they have to be on the same page, more so on the future than money. There is enough money out there for both parties. Heck, Jeter will almost pay his own way with his pursuit of 3,000 hits, the first to accomplish it in a Yankees uniform.

Hopefully, the next time Steinbrenner talks about Jeter, he won't be hurling another salvo. Instead, it will be in glowing terms and about how Jeter will finish his career in pinstripes. And in that conversation, money and what position Jeter will play won't be mentioned. That will have been agreed on.

Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.

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