Acme Inc.'s HR called me and said they are interested in me and that the salary is $XYZ. I asked if it was negotiable, and she said it was dependent on their hiring manager, and she made it sound like that is all they can offer. She also wants me to include my current manager as a reference even though I have not told my current manager that I am looking. Acme Inc. said they are serious about hiring me and that this would be the final step before we get into anything official.
I am wondering if this is a "handcuff" HR tactic so that now my current manager knows I am leaving and Acme Inc has leverage on me. After all, Acme Inc can say, "Sorry, we can only offer you $XYZ! What are you going to do? Your boss now knows you're leaving!".
I am desperate and do want this new job even though it pays only $4K less than what I make now, hence the negotiation I want to try to come out "even" on my salary. I want to maximize what I can get. But since Acme Inc have not officially offered, I feel that asking/negotiating might be premature until I give them my current manager as a reference.
How should I play this?
Update on 6/4/2013: I tried refusing to give my current manager's information, and got in contact with the hiring manager directly, but the hiring manager was unable to circumvent HR. I was desperate so I talked to my current manager and explained the situation. In the end, everything worked out, but it was not an ideal scenario for me. I guess this is a good reason to always to do your best at work and have a good relationship with your current manager.