Derek Jeter is free agent for first time

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter is free to talk to any team in baseball, while the New York Yankees are finally allowed to speak with Cliff Lee.

The clock has struck midnight and, as expected, Jeter and the Yankees do not yet have a deal yet to keep the captain in pinstripes. Jeter is a free agent for the first time in his career.

Even for Jeter, this is not unexpected because when a player is so close to free agency he rarely signs before he sees what is on the open market.

Jeter, of course, is a unique case because he is the captain of the Yankees and is considered in the same breath as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as franchise icons. At 36, off his worst statistical season of his career, he is expected to return to the Bronx, but there is likely to be a disagreement between Jeter and the team about how much and how long his next deal should be.

His just-concluded contract was for $189 million for 10 seasons, the third-highest contract in the history of the game. Alex Rodriguez -- with his $252 million deal and his current $275 million to $300 million contract -- owns the two highest. Rodriguez's current contract takes him until he is 42. Jeter might want to match that, but the Yankees will likely want to restrict the deal to three or four seasons, at most.

Mariano Rivera also is a free agent, but Rivera's return seems like even more of a formality than Jeter's. The question for Rivera -- who will likely top his record $15 million for a closer -- is will he receive a one-year or two-year deal. Rivera turns 41 at the end of this month.

As for Lee, he loomed large over the Yankees' regular season and postseason and is now a central figure in their offseason. The Yankees have been interested in acquiring Lee since July, when they almost dealt for him. Instead, the Texas Rangers beat them out for Lee and then eliminated the Yankees in the ALCS.

The Yankees are considered the favorites with Texas for the rights to Lee. Lee, 32, is expected to initially ask for a contract similar to CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million deal. But teams like the Los Angeles Angels and even the Washington Nationals could show interest.

The Yankees will likely monitor the Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth Sweepstakes, but at the moment are looking to focus their money on pitching. If they fail to land Lee, then Crawford or Werth could become a Plan B. The Angels and Boston Red Sox are expected to be interested in the outfielders.

If the Yankees were to go after an outfielder, they would probably make a trade involving Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner. If they fail to sign Lee, they most likely turn their attention to talks with other teams and attempt to make a trade for a big-name starter.

Andrew Marchand covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.