Controversy In Yankee-land?

NY Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is about to enter the last year of his contract… and from all appearances he has been waiting for the Yankees to broach a contract extension with him. The Yankees haven’t done so… and Rivera seems a bit put out because of it.

Rivera is a consummate professional. He won’t rant about the unfairness of the Yankees negotiating posture… and he won’t lobby for a new contract in the media. But he’ll answer any questions put to him honestly.

And so when he was asked about his contract situation on Monday, Rivera replied: “I definitely want to finish my career here, but if they don’t give me the respect I deserve, I have to move on”. And so Yankee-land went into a tizzy.

It was reminiscent of the scene in Boston a few weeks ago when Curt Schilling replied to some questions with a similar response. Schilling remarked that he would like a contract extension in place with the Red Sox before the season begins… and that if an extension was not complete by then he would become a free agent after the season. Schilling serves as his own agent and doesn’t want to be distracted by contract negotiations during the season.

Similarly, Rivera’s agent (Fernando Cuza) has indicated that Rivera won’t talk about a contract extension during the season.

Schilling is known for being outspoken and sometimes being a bit controversial… yet his comments last month caused quite a stir in Red Sox Nation. But unlike Schilling, the soft-spoken Rivera is not known for being outspoken or stirring controversy… so Monday’s proclamation was headline material in the NYC tabloids yesterday. And not just on the sports section back pages… in one case, the prospect of Rivera leaving the Yankees was front page news.

George King’s piece in the NY post started out: “Mariano Rivera a Red Sox? It could happen”.

Can you imagine how Yankees fans reacted to THAT one?

On Tuesday, GM Brian Cashman said he wanted to talk to Rivera before commenting on the pitchers remarks. Cashman is smart enough to know that a quote like that needs to be set into context… and he stated he would not respond until he knew the context of Rivera’s statement.

But Cashman indicated that he had a predilection to wait until after the 2007 season before talking contract with his Hall-of-Fame closer: “In theory I would always prefer to wait. Right now I want to concentrate on ‘07 and worry about ‘08 at another time. When that time will be, that would be between me and Mo”.

Could this have to do with Rivera’s age (37) or the fact that he was injured for part of the 2006 season?

Cashman added: “Mo knows how we feel about him. We care a great deal about him. He’s been a great Yankee… (but) obviously there’s a contract in place that we worked out a while before”. He said that he spoke with his closer one time during the offseason… and that Rivera didn’t bring up his contract situation.

But Cashman left the door for negotiations wide open: “Every situation has a proper time and a proper place. My preference is to wait throughout the year on everybody, if I possibly can. We have a lot of people up. I’m going to talk Mariano first, have a conversion with him to see where he’s at”.

Ummm… where he’s at Brian is that he wants a contract extension in place. Just like Curt Schilling wants an extension in place in Boston. And if common sense rules in either front office, both pitchers will have their contract extensions in place before the season begins.

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