There are a couple of things that New Yorkers have come to count on at Yankee Stadium every Opening Day — the sight of what MLB's fattest payroll looks like and Derek Jeter filling the gap at shortstop. This might be the first spring that the team has neither.
While general manager Brian Cashman breaks down the Yankees' payroll so it is under the luxury tax limit, manager Joe Girardi isn't making any guarantees that Jeter's fractured ankle will be fully healed by the April 1 Opening day in the Bronx.
"I think there's a little bit of a question, but I think he'll find a way," said Girardi on Thursday. "That's who he is."
Jeter broke his ankle on Oct. 13 while lunging for a ground ball during Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers The images of Jeter grimacing in pain near second base and then being helped off the field by Girardi and the staff are some pictures that fans would like to erase from their memories of the shortstop.
The 38-year-old Jeter is reportedly at his mansion in Tampa and said to be keeping weight off his ankle until January — which would cut into his normal off-season conditioning program.
The injury wasn't initially thought to require surgery but the Yankee Captain ended up under the knife in October — a procedure which lengthened the recovery time to at least four months.
"You have to get back to full strength, and maybe you're not able to start doing the things you normally would in January," Girardi said. "I mean, it could be, but I think he'll find a way."
Girardi has spoken to Jeter occasionally throughout the off-season and Cashman said he has plans to have him as his regular shortstop in 2013. That is contingent on Jeter's recovery time. Four months of rehab would have him ready for the Grapefruit League Spring Training schedule. Five months would probably sideline the future Hall of Famer until after Opening Day.
"I think his mood's OK," said Girardi. "Derek always finds a way to deal with what he's going through."
Knowing Jeter's dedication to the game and how much missing Opening Day would mean to him, don't be kidded into believing that he won't be leading off on April Fool's Day.