NEW YORK (AP) _ Derek Jeter's surprising arbitration case is barely over, and already baseball people are looking ahead.

After just three more seasons, he'll be eligible for free agency. Presumably, the Yankees would like to sign the All-Star shortstop to a multiyear deal.

``The ball's in their court,'' Jeter's agent, Casey Close, said Tuesday after his client won a $5 million salary. ``It's an organization that has the resources and the opportunity to do something special for a special player. They've rolled those dice before and found out what happened with Bernie.''

Before this week, Bernie Williams was the last Yankee to go to arbitration, winning his case for a $3 million salary in 1996. Williams rejected several multiyear offers that he deemed too low, went year by year and became a free agent last fall.

He nearly signed with the Boston Red Sox, citing the way he felt the Yankees treated him, and stayed with New York only after owner George Steinbrenner, in the final hours of talks, increased his offer from $50 million for five years to $87.5 million for seven.

Jeter, eligible for arbitration for the first time, made $750,000 last year and turned down the Yankees' offer to settle for $3.5 million, $300,000 above their arbitration figure.

He can become a free agent after the 2001 season, but the Yankees haven't made any proposals for a long-term deal since he rejected a $31 million, five-year offer last year.

``Derek's vital to the ballclub and is a tremendous person,'' Steinbrenner said after the decision. ``I just hope he's in the right frame of mind to get the job done. ... I'm not upset at all _ I'm very happy. A little lighter in the purse, but very happy. You never like to lose _ show me a gracious loser and I'll show you a loser.''

Owners had won the first five hearings this year, defeating Montreal infielder Shane Andrews, Boston outfielder Midre Cummings, Kansas City outfielder Johnny Damon, Los Angeles shortstop Mark Grudzielanek and Detroit outfielder Brian Hunter.

New York Mets reliever Armando Benitez, scheduled for a hearing Tuesday, instead settled for a one-year contract worth $1,987,500.

Benitez, who made $1.1 million with Baltimore last season, got a deal halfway between the $2.4 million he had sought and the $1,575,000 the Mets had offered. Benitez, obtained from Baltimore during the offseason, was 5-6 with a 3.82 ERA and 22 saves for the Orioles last season and made $1.1 million.

St. Louis left-hander Darren Oliver, 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA in 10 starts last season, lost his case today and will get $3.55 million instead of $4.15 million, arbitrators Richard Bloch, Jerome Ross and William H. Holly Jr. ruled. Oliver made $3.05 million last year.

Just four other players remain in arbitration, with hearings scheduled to conclude this week. Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera was the only player to have a hearing today.

Also Tuesday, St. Louis signed free agent infielder Shawon Dunston to a $500,000, one-year contract.

Close offered to settle the Jeter case before Monday's hearing at the midpoint of $4.1 million, but the Yankees refused.

``I made a call and I was wrong,'' general manager Brian Cashman said, adding, ``I cost the company some money.''

Jeter, whose case was decided by arbitrators Nicholas Zumas, Ira Jaffe and Gil Vernon, matched Ruben Sierra's 1992 salary with Texas as the second-highest ever awarded in arbitration. The only higher award is the $5.3 million pitcher Jack McDowell got from the Chicago White Sox in 1994 _ when he lost his case.

``It's over with. It's the business side, the ugly part,'' Jeter said. ``If you play well on the field, everything will take care of itself.''

Jeter hit .324 last season with 19 homers, 84 RBIs and 30 steals. He was fifth in the AL in batting average and first in runs with 127.

If there's anyone Steinbrenner is angry at, it probably is Cashman.

``They won, I lost,'' Cashman said in Tampa. ``I really think our case was strong, and I thought the midpoint was irrelevant. Obviously, it's not. It's one of those things where the glass is half-empty, half-full.''