Yankees captain Derek Jeter smiles as Robinson Cano looks on....

Yankees captain Derek Jeter smiles as Robinson Cano looks on. (Oct. 17, 2010) Credit: John Dunn

At Steinbrenner Field last month, Hal Steinbrenner morphed into Jim Phelps, issuing a mission impossible to his lieutenants on hand:

Bring back Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera and sign Cliff Lee, all while keeping the payroll essentially flat at about $210 million.

They're halfway done in acquisitions now, with Jeter and Rivera back in the fold, and that task seems considerably more feasible. The Yankees just might be able to pick up all of the items on their shopping list and still satisfy Money Man Hal.

Jeter, coming off his worst major-league season, will wind up making about $16 million per year, a pay cut from his previous annual average value of $18.9 million and even more so from the actual $21 million he pulled in last season. Rivera, still an elite closer, agreed to keep his salary at $15 million for the next two years. Both players agreed to defer some money, helping the Yankees with their large luxury tax.

Pettitte, coming off a stellar yet injury-shortened campaign, can't expect a raise from his $11.75-million base of 2010 once he officially decides to return.

The big money coming off the books arrives from Javier Vazquez ($11.5 million) and Nick Johnson ($5.5 million), and you can throw in a few more million bucks if you want to count midseason arrivals Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns and Kerry Wood.

That gets you up to the $20-million range, so if Lee agrees to backload his contract, you have a deal and a budget pretty much met.

They pulled this off thanks mostly to Jeter, who apparently came to his senses this past week and accepted that the Yankees weren't bluffing. The captain needed the Yankees more than they needed him, so Jeter - after taking a deserved public hit when agent Casey Close uttered some nonsense about Jeter's "total contribution" to the franchise - had little choice but to take the Yankees' slightly improved offer.

Now the focus turns to Lee, who will dominate this week's winter meetings by trying to play the Yankees and Rangers against each other.

Ultimately, the Yankees should prevail in that battle because the Rangers can't afford to risk Lee turning into an injury-riddled flop - and the Yankees can.

Carl Crawford? Can't see how he becomes a Yankee if Lee and Pettitte hop aboard. People like to point to the Yankees' signing of Mark Teixeira (on top of the CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett contracts) two years ago as an example of "never say never,'' but the difference is the Yankees had about $80 million coming off the books that winter and could fit those guys in. This time there's no such flexibility.

Add to that the reality that the Yankees consider Crawford a tad overrated, and the best bet calls for Crawford to join his pal Torii Hunter with the Angels.

Hal Steinbrenner cares about his budget, always. He laid down the law with his baseball people, and they did the same with Jeter.

They won't win any awards for financial restraint. But they have been both creative and diligent so far, so you'll understand if an early sense of satisfaction can be felt among Yankees officials in Orlando this week.