Hal Steinbrenner says the Yankees want Derek Jeter and Mariano...

Hal Steinbrenner says the Yankees want Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera back, but reminded fans that deals will only get done if they benefit both sides. Credit: Getty Images

In his first extensive public comments since meeting with reporters before this year's home opener, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said he wants Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera back but he also threw in a few cautionary notes.

"We're running a business here," Steinbrenner said on the Michael Kay Show on 1050 ESPN, the first of two radio interviews the normally reclusive owner did Tuesday. "So if there's a deal to be done, it's going to be a deal that both sides are happy with."

Not that Steinbrenner doesn't recognize the iconic nature of both players.

"We definitely want Derek back, we definitely want Mo back," he said. "They're just great Yankees and great leaders."

Speaking minutes later on WFAN with Mike Francesa, Steinbrenner said of the pair, "hopefully, they're lifelong Yankees," and of Jeter, "he's one of the greatest Yankees in history, no doubt about it."

Steinbrenner, who just wrapped up two days of meetings in Tampa that included his brother, Hank, team president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman, indicated a blank check wouldn't be presented to either player. He also said it was possible fans could get "frustrated" at the pace of the negotiations with Jeter.

"There's always the possibility that things could get messy," Steinbrenner said on 1050 ESPN. "I know our fans are very emotional and that's what we love about them. But I have to try and do my job on behalf of the partnership and our partners and everybody else involved with the organization, and Hank and I need to take a level head and realize that, just as I said, we're running a business here."

Steinbrenner, who said initial contact already has been made between the Yankees and Jeter's agent, Casey Close, wouldn't give a figure for next year's payroll but told Kay and Francesa, "I can safely say that we're going to stay within the same level," as this year's, which was in the neighborhood of $206 million.

"We know we're expected to field a championship-caliber team and we're going to do what it takes to do that," Steinbrenner said on ESPN 1050. "If we have to get creative in a trade or we have to go after a big free agent, we're going to do it. We do have some money coming off."

One source familiar with the organizational meetings said the Yankees "absolutely" will make Cliff Lee their top free- agent priority, though Steinbrenner wouldn't address the Rangers ace lefthander specifically, other than to say on WFAN, "We will be active in the free-agent market, yes."

Tampa Bay leftfielder Carl Crawford and Rays setup man Joaquin Benoit are among other free agents the Yankees discussed.

As for the way the season ended, with a six-game loss to the Rangers in the ALCS, Steinbrenner on WFAN called it "very disappointing."

He ended his interview on the station with a message for fans.

"Thank you for your support," Steinbrenner said. "We commit to you right now we're going to field a championship-caliber team [next year] and we're going to give you what you deserve.''

Notes & quotes: The Yankees outrighted RHP Chad Gaudin and LHP Royce Ring to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, effectively removing both from the 40-man roster. Gaudin elected free agency. OF Melky Mesa, who won the Topps/Minor League Player of the Year Award Tuesday for the Florida State League, was added to the 40-man roster . . . Double-A Trenton third baseman Brandon Laird won the Eastern League's MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.

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