These are not your father's Yankees anymore. Or at least, these are not Hal Steinbrenner's father's Yankees anymore.
That much was clear when, asked during a radio interview Tuesday about the negotiations to keep Derek Jeter a Yankee, the younger son of George M. Steinbrenner III said, "We absolutely want him back. ... But having said that, we're running a business here, so if there's a deal to be done, it's going to have to be a deal that both sides are happy with."
In an interview with Michael Kay on 1050 ESPN Radio, Steinbrenner, the Yankees' managing partner, did not reveal whether talks had actually begun but said that contact had already been made between general manager Brian Cashman and Casey Close, Jeter's agent, on a new agreement following the 10-year, $189 million deal that expired when the World Series ended Monday night.
But Steinbrenner was unable to put a time frame on how long negotiations would take or hazard a guess on how smoothly they would go. "Who knows?" he 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.
"There's always the possibility that things could get messy."
Jeter, 36, is coming off the worst overall season of his 16-year major league career. His .270 batting average, the lowest since he became a regular in 1996, is 44 points below his career batting average and represents a 64-point drop from his 2009 production, when he hit .334. His 179 hits matched the lowest total since his injury-shortened 2003 season, and his .340 on-base percentage was the lowest since his rookie season of 1995.
Still, Jeter, a member of five Yankees world championship teams, is revered by the fans and a messy negotiation could be a public relations disaster for the club.
"I know our fans are very emotional and that's what we love about them," Steinbrenner said. "But I've got to do my job on behalf of the partnership and our partners and everybody else involved in the organization. [Brother and co-chairman] Hank and I need to keep a level head and realize that we're running a business here. We have to remain somewhat objective and we're going to do that."
Still, Steinbrenner described Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who is also a free agent, as "hopefully lifelong Yankees" and said that re-signing both of them "is going to be a priority."
"Obviously we want them back," he said. "They're two of the greatest Yankees ever."
In the eight-and-a-half minute interview, Steinbrenner touched on a variety of topics, ranging from his disappointment over the Yankees' elimination by the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series ("It's a horrible feeling, obviously") to the 2011 payroll ("I can safely say we're going to stay within the same levels") and the team's expected pursuit of high-level free agents such as left-hander Cliff Lee ("We will have money to spend and we will get into it").
New York's No. 1 priority from outside the organization is Lee, an official familiar with the team's organizational meetings told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcements were made.
Lee was 2-0 against the Yankees for Philadelphia in the 2009 World Series and beat New York for Texas in this year's ALCS. Lee was 0-2 against San Francisco in the Rangers' five-game World Series loss.
Free agents can start negotiating with all teams starting Sunday. Texas says it hopes to re-sign Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner for Cleveland.
Steinbrenner said that all areas of the team were being evaluated at organizational meetings being held in Tampa this week with Cashman, team president Randy Levine and other members of the organization.
"What we've been doing the last two days is what we do every offseason," Steinbrenner said. "There's always areas of improvement that are necessary. We look at the team piece by piece, we determine what our priorities are going to be, what areas we need to improve upon and then we look around. We look at what possible fits are in the free-agent market, and then we'll look at possible trades as well.
"We know we're expected to field a championship-caliber team and we're going to do what it takes to do that," he said. "So if we have to get creative in a trade or if we have to go after a big free agent, we're going to do it. We're going to be a World Series-type team next year. Absolutely."
Come to think of it, that sounded an awful lot like Hal Steinbrenner's father after all.
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.