NEW YORK -- Even though both sides want the same thing, Brian Cashman said Thursday that the Yankees are in the "infancy stages" regarding negotiations with Derek Jeter after the two met face-to-face a few days ago.

The Yankees' general manager knows Jeter's free-agent status is a delicate situation, and -- unlike the scenario with Mariano Rivera, perhaps -- one can foresee the possibility of a long, drawn-out process.

One way or another, though, the Yankees and Jeter need to work it out, because there is no better fit in sports, and because we need Jeter to be one of the few great players who spends his entire career on one team.

Would it really matter if the inconceivable happens and Jeter winds up signing with another club this offseason, thus ending his Hall of Fame career away from familiarity and spotlight? Probably not. Jeter would still be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and the image of his older self in a different jersey wouldn't live in our minds very long. It didn't when Willie Mays finished off with the Mets, when Michael Jordan ended it with the Wizards or when Franco Harris played his final season with the Seahawks.

But we have this tendency to hold players who never switch teams in much higher regard.

Maybe because it gives us something to believe in.

In this era of dwindling loyalties, with teams often quick to pull the trigger on trades and a player's initial staying period usually lasting no longer than the six years of service time required of free agency, seeing a great player like Jeter -- and Rivera -- stay in one organization is special, no matter who you root for.

Fans are constantly being toyed with by the realities of professional sports. They cheer emphatically for Johnny Damon on the Red Sox one year, then viciously boo him as a Yankee the next. They want to root for more than laundry, and they want players who identify with their cities to never leave.

Jeter needs to be that for New York.

"It's just got to happen," former Yankee David Cone said. "I'm not sure how you put a value on him. There's a lot of debate about what he's worth now as opposed to then. I'll say this: When I played for [the Mets] in the '80s, New York was a National League baseball town. Traditionally, for a long time, a lot of really smart people thought New York was a National League town. I think Derek Jeter, not single-handedly but very prominently, swung a whole generation of young fans over to the Yankees. And I don't know how you put a price tag on that. I think he was that important, I really do."

Throughout baseball history, there have been only 62 players who were in the Majors for at least 15 years and started and ended their careers with the same team, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Of those 62, 35 are Hall of Famers. And, surprisingly -- despite the impact of free agency and the frequency with which players switch teams nowadays -- seven of those retired between 2000 and '09, while an additional four who meet that criteria are still active. Three of them -- Jeter, Rivera and Jorge Posada -- are Yankees.

"A lot of things have to go right for guys to spend their entire career with one team," Cal Ripken Jr., who spent all of his Hall of Fame career in an Orioles uniform, wrote in an e-mail. "First and foremost, the player has to be productive, and then the team has to place a high value on them both on and off the field."

New York has no choice but to do so in this case.

Not since Mickey Mantle has a player personified Yankees lore the way Jeter does. He grew up with the dream of being a Yankee. He was given No. 2, even though nearly all the single-digit numbers have ended up on the backs of the seemingly mythical figures of the franchise's esteemed history -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mantle, Yogi Berra. And he captured the hearts of millions with countless lasting images through 16 years in pinstripes.

Now 36, Jeter is still more than serviceable, but his range has suffered and his production at the plate seems to be diminishing. Fans still can't picture him anywhere else, though. And so Cashman has to somehow draw up a reasonable contract that will probably have as much to do with Jeter's past as it will his future.

That's why being the Yankees' GM is so difficult these days.

"I'm glad I'm not Brian Cashman, [who] has to put a dollar sign on it, because that's a tough job," former Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "But hopefully they satisfy each other and Derek remains in pinstripes."

There's little reason to believe he won't.

Sure, the Yankees will probably wind up overpaying -- and, in essence, they may only be competing against themselves -- but they've never been reluctant to do so, anyway.

Why change under such rare and special circumstances?