Kathy Willens/Associated Press
If the New York Yankees are going to return to the playoffs in 2014, a healthy, productive Derek Jeter is a necessity.
It's not about Jeter's production on the field as much as the swagger that the Yankees carry themselves with when the captain is in the thick of it all. They expect to win because he does. Not just enough to make the playoffs, but to win the World Series.
"Always. Bottom line," Jeter explained to ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor last September. "That's the goal. That will always be the message as long as I'm here."
As for those who question just how productive a player entering his age-40 season can possibly be, especially one who was limited to only 17 forgettable games in 2013, Jeter isn't paying attention, telling O'Connor that he expects to have a typical Jeteresque season:
"Why would you set expectations low? I don't understand that. I don't understand how people do that. I've never done it."
It was only two years ago that Jeter hit .316 and lead baseball with 216 hits, so there's reason for optimism. Asking for a repeat performance may be too much, but if he begins to look like himself this spring—and stays healthy—the Yankees become a more dangerous team.
Should the injury bug strike again or Jeter look, well, like a 40-year-old shortstop with two decades of wear and tear on his body, general manager Brian Cashman may have no choice but to seriously consider signing free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew—if he's still available.