Tsk, tsk, Yankees. You should have known better.

Once agent Casey Close made the Derek Jeter negotiations public this weekend, proving Hal Steinbrenner’s “things could get messy” prophecy as true, the team needed to be thinking two steps ahead.

Unfortunately, Yankee officials were playing checkers when they needed to be playing chess, and that’s how a reporter from the Associated Press managed to get through to Hal’s loquacious brother, Hank, on Tuesday.

I worried about this exact scenario just a day earlier. After the agent told the Daily News he was “baffled” by the Yankees’ negotiation strategy, I braced for a reaction by Yankee brass that would further divide the gap between icon and team.

As I said Monday, we’re talking about very rich men with very rich egos, and Close insinuated someone was dropping the ball. That’s a big rich dude no-no. Rich dudes live to project infallibility.

I figure there has to be a panic room at the Yankees’ Tampa headquarters, a place where George was hidden away in his “fuzzy” years and the skeletal remnants of the scout who vouched for Hideki Irabu could be safely stored. That poor man’s family…

And if this mystical panic room does indeed exist, Hank Steinbrenner should have been resting there comfortably with a gallon of whiskey, six cartons of Marlboro Reds and all of Andrew Dice Clay’s stand-up specials on VHS.

Brian Cashman had to have realized the press would want Hank’s thoughts on the situation. After all, this is same man who once said, “Red Sox Nation? What a bunch of bulls**t that is.”

Because of his propensity to speak his mind, Hank is a reporter’s wet dream. When Close challenged the organization, it was obvious the media would come after Hank the way your skeevy college roommate came after the drunkest girl with the lowest self esteem at a frat party.

It was all so inevitable, and yet, late Tuesday came word that Hank had been compromised.

“As much as we want to keep everybody, we’ve already made these guys very, very rich, and I don’t feel we owe anybody anything monetarily,” the Yankees co-chairman said. “Some of these players are wealthier than their bosses.”

Never mind the fact that it was during Hank’s brief reign of terror as chief decision-maker that the franchise signed A-Rod to the worst contract in the history of mankind. Seriously, as insanely clueless as his commentary is, let’s set aside that irony for now.

Instead, we’ll focus on the smaller picture, which is we now have another member of the Yankee brass on record basically calling Jeter’s bluff.

It’s now being widely reported that New York’s offer stands at three years at $15 million annually. Earlier in the day, Cashman expressed his surprise at Close’s “baffling” dig, and was blunt in his assessment of the situation.

“We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account,” Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com. “We’ve encouraged him to test the market and see if there’s something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That’s the way it works.”

Then, curiously, he added a little dagger.

“We’ve made an offer and we hope they strongly consider it,” he said. “[But] there are things we have concerns with — his recent performance over the last few years, and his age. And that has to be factored into this negotiation.”

Ugh. With every day that goes by it, the teeth seem to be getting a little sharper on each side. Again, this was Jeter’s choice to go public. You have to wonder if he’s regretting that decision now.

As for Hank, we need to get him in that panic room. I absolutely adore the man and all the limitless entertainment he brings both to this blog and my life in general. But he needs to be muzzled. If we need to put the Dice Man himself in that room, make it happen.

I’m guessing he’s available.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

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