Jeter: Contract a non-issue until fall
Yankees captain says he doesn't want to be free agent
TAMPA, Fla. -- The contract that bears Derek Jeter's swirling signature obligates him to wear the pinstripes for just one more season, but the Yankees captain refuses to think about his upcoming free agency.
Why waste energy looking ahead? As Jeter addressed his expiring deal on Wednesday at a news conference outside George M. Steinbrenner Field, the 35-year-old shortstop said he can't imagine himself in the lineup for any other team.
"This is the only organization I've ever wanted to play for," Jeter said. "That's still true today. I was a Yankees fan growing up, and this is where I want to be. I've never envisioned myself playing anywhere else, and hopefully I don't have to."
Jeter is about to begin the final season of a 10-year, $189 million contract with the Yankees, and said he understands the club policy of not negotiating expiring deals in-season, a stance taken by ownership to minimize potential distractions.
The Yankees will also have to handle the final years of deals for closer Mariano Rivera and manager Joe Girardi. General manager Brian Cashman said he paints all three with the same brush.
"These are great Yankees that we have a devotion to," Cashman said. "We appreciate what they do. I feel there's a time and place, and I know ownership agrees, for these discussions. Right now, we feel that [the time is] not a year in advance of when the contract expires.
"They're priceless to our fans. We know that. There's a bond there and we recognize that they're special. We'll obviously approach players at the end of the season and start working on 2011, but this is about 2010 right now."
Jeter said his agent, Casey Close, reached out to the Yankees over the winter, but was informed that no negotiations would be taking place until after the 2010 season.
"I don't have a problem with it," Jeter said. "That's the new policy that they have. They have every right to do that. I signed a long deal, I'm still under contract with that deal, and they have the right to do whatever they want.
"I've never gone into a season focused on the next season. My approach since Day One is to do whatever you can to help the team win in that particular year. I'm not thinking about what's going to happen next season."
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Three months after winning his fifth World Series title with the Yankees, Jeter stressed that his eyes are set on the season ahead. He will be returning as a mainstay of the infield, having compiled one of his best all-around seasons in 2009 and silencing critics who wondered whether Jeter was slowing and headed for designated hitter or the outfield.
After focusing on agility training and overall conditioning, Jeter was remarkably consistent, batting .334 with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs in 153 games as the Yankees rolled to a 103-win season plus the elusive 11 postseason victories needed to raise the World Series trophy.
Jeter said he did not have a set number in mind when asked how much longer he wanted to continue wearing a Major League uniform.
"I never put limitations on how long I can play," Jeter said. "I'm going to play as long as I'm enjoying myself. I'm having a blast right now. You work extremely hard in the offseason to make adjustments.
"I think I've done that, and I'm going to have to continue to make adjustments through the years. I want to play as long as I can, as long as I'm having fun, and as long as I'm being productive."
Jeter has compiled 2,747 hits since his debut in 1995, and after surpassing Lou Gehrig for the all-time franchise hit mark last year, he should make a run at becoming the first Yankee to hit the 3,000 mark sometime in 2011, if he can remain healthy and productive to his standards.
Although Jeter has made his stance clear toward preferring to remain with the Yankees, he could be an attractive fit for teams if he does reach free agency. That might make for an interesting scenario if other clubs are offering Jeter contracts while the Yankees negotiate.
"I've never been in that situation," Jeter said. "I've never been a free agent; I've never wanted to be a free agent. That's why I signed such a long deal. I felt, the longer the better, because I didn't want to have to answer these questions."
It may be a moot point. Most expect that Jeter will wind up back with the Yankees eventually, including teammate Andy Pettitte, who said it was probably a "foregone conclusion" that Jeter would be playing in pinstripes next year.
"I think he'll be fine," Pettitte said. "I don't think he'll pay a whole lot of attention to it. I think he knows the way it is here, as far as when it's your contract year. The Yankees wait for you to become a free agent and deal with situations like that.
"I think he's seen all of us go through it. Obviously he had the big long-term deal, and he hasn't had to mess with it. I guess you knew that this day was going to eventually come."
Girardi said he does not expect Jeter's contract to be an issue at any point this year.
"I don't think it's going to be a distraction for Derek," Girardi said. "If I think it does become a distraction, I'll say something to him. But when you look at Derek, he's handled everything with grace and professionalism, and I don't expect he'll handle this any different."
Jeter said that Wednesday will be final time he will address his contract with reporters until after the 2010 season, out of respect for his teammates and the Yankees.
"I think it's unfair to be talking about myself when we're trying to win," Jeter said. "That's the approach I've always had. It's not going to change. I know it's going to cause speculation and stories out there, but it won't be a distraction because I won't be talking about it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.