Derek Jeter during batting practice before the Yankees' ALCS game...

Derek Jeter during batting practice before the Yankees' ALCS game against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium. (Oct. 19, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Hal Steinbrenner started it when he said, "Things could get messy."

Then Randy Levine said, "This isn't a licensing deal or a commercial rights deal. He's a baseball player."

Then Brian Cashman said, "If he doesn't like what we're offering him, if he can find a better opportunity with more money, that's fine. Whatever's important to him."

Finally, Hank Steinbrenner chimed in, telling The Associated Press, "We've already made these guys very, very rich, and I don't feel we owe anybody anything monetarily."

Are there any more members of the Yankees' front office who want to clarify the club's position about free agent icon Derek Jeter?

How about chief financial officer/accounting Robert Brown? Or maybe chief financial officer/financial operations Scott Krug? Or perhaps Emily Hamel, the Yankees' director of non-baseball events?

Because what's going on with Jeter and the Yankees is all about money. And is definitely a non-baseball event.

That's not to say it's not an event. Oh boy, has it become an event in the last week, as Jeter's agent Casey Close and the Yankees' bigwigs have traded barbs. Close said the Yankees' negotiating stance is "baffling" to him, which means it must be baffling to Jeter.

Close, as his name attests, always plays it close to the vest when it comes to airing Jeter's concerns publicly. But twice recently he has responded to Yankee broadsides with a few swings of his own.

Are Yankee fans getting nervous about this? I don't sense that they are. I conducted an exclusive, unscientific RieberPoll Tuesday and Wednesday - I listened to talk radio, read blogs and asked my next-door neighbor what he thinks about it - and the general consensus is there's no way these two sides don't kiss and make up.

Except . . .

The one comment from a Yankee higher-up that probably could stick in Jeter's Champagne-soaked craw the most is one Cashman gave to on Tuesday:

"There are things we have concerns with - his recent performance over the last few years, and his age."

Ouch. Very ouch, babe.

Playing the age card? That's cold. Sure, Jeter knows he's 36 going on 37. It's one thing to know you're not as young as you used to be. It's another thing to have it pointed out to you by your general manager.

It's the baseball equivalent of answering "Do these pants make me look fat?" with "Yes, they do."

Probably not the best answer.

Does this all mean Jeter won't sign on the dotted line for whatever figure (inflated based on his future production) the sides eventually agree on? No. He will. Whether it's three years, $45 million, or four years, $60 million, or 10 years, $275 million with $30 million in milestone bonuses.

Wait, that last one is the contract the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to the last time they were basically bidding against themselves to retain a prime free agent. As the song says, "How you like me now?"

(That's the contract talking. Hint: The Yankees don't like it much now. But they are stuck with it.)

They are also stuck with Jeter and Jeter is stuck with them.

Whatever the final number, there will be a news conference at Yankee Stadium sometime in December or January, and Jeter will stand at the podium and say he never expected it not to get done, and Cashman will stand at the podium and say Jeter exemplifies everything that is great about being a Yankee, and Close will say nothing at all and Hank Steinbrenner probably won't even attend.

But Jeter will always know what the message was from the various Yankee voices during the negotiations:

"We love you, Derek. But we're not in love with you."

And that's gotta sting a little.

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