At 12:01 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, open negotiations can begin between free agents and all 30 teams.
The question isn’t if the Yankees will make a bid for left-hander Cliff Lee – we all know they will. But how soon will they plunge into the pool, chasing their top target outside the organization?
Barring some unlikely last-minute agreement, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will also be able to speak to any interested clubs, though nearly everyone in baseball seems to agree that both iconic Yankees will be back in pinstripes next season.
This was a situation Jeter never wanted to be in, something he made clear at a press conference this February in Tampa, Fla., when Jeter discussed his pending free agency for the first and only time this year.
“This is the only organization I ever wanted to play for. This is where I want to be,” Jeter said that day. “I never envisioned myself playing anywhere else, and hopefully I don’t have to.”
In a way, the Jeter negotiations figure to be more intriguing than the Lee developments. The Yankees’ playbook for Lee figures to follow the path of the pursuit of CC Sabathia in December 2008, perhaps minus the theatrics of Brian Cashman ducking out of Las Vegas during the Winter Meetings for a super-secret house visit to the ace in California.
The Yankees aren’t likely to allow themselves to be out-bid for Lee, creating a headache for the Rangers, Phillies, Nationals and whoever else might show interest.
But with Jeter, the Yankees need to stare across the bargaining table at a shortstop who will turn 37 in June and is coming off a career-worst .270 batting average, weighing the value of Jeter’s iconic past against what his baseball future might be. The outcome should be fascinating.