Derek Jeter stays in leadoff spot

Updated: February 15, 2011, 9:41 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter, No. 2 in your program, is still No. 1 in the New York Yankees' batting order.

So said manager Joe Girardi in a news conference on the day pitchers and catchers reported to the Yankees' spring training complex.

"We signed him to be our shortstop and we signed him to be our leadoff hitter,'' Girardi said. "He had a couple of rough months last year [but by] September he was back to being Derek, I thought. So I'm not really too concerned about him as our leadoff hitter.''

In 2010, Jeter posted career lows in batting average (.270) and on-base percentage (.340), hit into a team-high 22 double plays and grounded out at an inordinately high rate, raising speculation that he might be dropped from the leadoff spot in the Yankees' lineup in favor of the younger, speedier Brett Gardner.

But after working with hitting coach Kevin Long last August to shorten his swing, Jeter hit .287 in September, his second-best month of the season. Jeter had several additional offseason sessions with Long and has trained steadily through the winter with coach Rob Thomson in Tampa.

"Derek's very professional, he's very in tune with what his role is as the captain of the New York Yankees, and as the leadoff hitter of the New York Yankees," Girardi said. "Will he want to prove to some people that he's not a .280, .290 hitter? Maybe. But I think he tries to prove that every year and I don't think this will be different than any other season."

Jeter's future, both in the lineup and on the field, was a point of discussion during his contentious contract negotiations this winter, and both Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have acknowledged the possibility of a position change at some point over the life of Jeter's new three-year, $51 million deal, possibly to center field.

"I think that's all behind Derek," Girardi said when asked if he thought the prolonged negotiations would have a lingering effect on Jeter. "He understands what he's supposed to do. I think he'll come in prepared to play, he'll come in prepared to have a good season, and help us to win a championship and I don't think it will really affect him."

While Jeter's spot in the lineup seems set, the back end of the Yankees' rotation remains unsettled. New York may take a month or more to decide on the fourth and fifth starters.

"The chances of the fourth and fifth starter roles being answered sooner than later are not very good," Girardi said. "You want to see who we feel has the best chance to help us during the course of the season."

Candidates include Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Sergio Mitre and Bartolo Colon. Girardi repeated that Joba Chamberlain is not an option, even though he lost his setup job late last season.

"We've seen how dominant he can be in the bullpen," Girardi said. "Joba has a chance to be extremely important to our bullpen, and I'm looking forward to that."

Staff ace CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett fill the top three slots of a rotation that will be without Andy Pettitte, who retired.

"I know that's going to be a question that I'm asked a lot about, our rotation, and I understand that," Girardi said. "But, that question is not going to be answered, really, until we get into the middle of the season. I feel good about the guys that we have here in camp."

Meanwhile, the Yankees finalized a $2 million, one-year contract with Andruw Jones.

The team announced the deal with the five-time All-Star outfielder on Monday.

Jones can earn an additional $1.2 million in performance bonuses as part of the agreement: $150,000 each for 250 and 275 plate appearances, $200,000 apiece for 300 and 325, and $250,000 each for each of 350 and 375.

The 33-year-old Jones will be a right-handed-hitting backup to Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher. He made an impact against New York in his rookie season, homering twice for Atlanta at Yankee Stadium in the 1996 World Series opener.

Jones hit .230 with 19 homers and 48 RBIs in 107 games last season with the Chicago White Sox.

To make room on the 40-man roster, New York designated right-handed pitcher Brian Schlitter for assignment.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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