- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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Hal Steinbrenner would like to give himself a nice Christmas present this year: a resolution to the Derek Jeter contract negotiations.
But he is the son of George Steinbrenner, not Santa Claus, and as such can't guarantee when he will be able to tie a ribbon on the most-awaited free-agent deal in recent Yankees history and place it under the tree.
"I would like to be relaxing on Christmas Eve," Steinbrenner said while waiting for a chauffeured car to take him away from the Major League Baseball general managers meetings, which concluded Thursday morning. "But look, it'll take as long as it takes. The important thing is, we don't make it personal, because it's not personal. We have a lot of respect for each other, and we gotta keep talking. That's the deal. We gotta keep talking, and we will."
Steinbrenner refused to discuss details of the negotiations, some of which were reported Wednesday by ESPNNewYork.com -- specifically the Yankees' wish to offer Jeter a three-year contract at $21 million a year, and Jeter's preference for a minimum of four years.
But a baseball source confirmed the accuracy of those details early Thursday, indicating the potential for things between the Yankees and Jeter to get "messy," the word Steinbrenner used in two radio interviews last week.
Casey Close, Jeter's agent, did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment.
"We're working hard at it,'' Steinbrenner said. "It's definitely a big deal. I'm happy with the tenor of things. I think there's mutual respect on both sides. There's a lot of history there."
Asked if he was concerned about fan perception that maybe the negotiations were not proceeding as cordially as they had been portrayed, Steinbrenner said: "I haven't polled anybody on perceptions. Look, it's important what our fans think but this is a private company and we're going to keep negotiations a private thing."
Steinbrenner, GM Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine met with Jeter and Close at the team offices in Tampa the weekend of Nov. 6, and there have been conversations between Cashman and Close in the intervening two weeks.
"Look, this is a business negotiation,'' Steinbrenner said. "None of us wants to make it personal, because it's not personal . . . My family's got a lot of respect for Derek and I believe it is a mutual thing. It's been a good history. We're gonna do our best to keep it by the book."
Asked if either the Jeter deal or the pending deal for Mariano Rivera, also a free agent, were close to getting done, Steinbrenner comically tried to change the subject by asking if any of the reporters had gotten to play golf during their three days in Orlando.
Told that the media was too busy chasing down news on his two star free agents, Steinbrenner said: "It's the same deal [with Rivera]. Two weeks ago we sat down with his agent and we're just going through the process just as we do every year. [Jeter and Rivera are] two great Yankees and we realize that, and it makes it a bit different. But the process is still the same."
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