New York Yankees: Gardner to Leadoff in 2011? Girardi Hints at Change Tonight

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIMarch 17, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 15:  Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees rounds thrid base as he scores from first base on a RBI double by Derek Jeter #2 in the top of the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers in Game One of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 15, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Coming off the worst statistical season of his career, the questions of whether Derek Jeter is still a capable leadoff hitter are rampant. What's more, with a speedster like Brett Gardner spending most of his time in the No. 9 hole, a replacement for Jeter atop the lineup is already in-house.

While manager Joe Girardi was unwilling to say directly that he would consider moving Jeter down in the lineup, he did say that he'd try "different things."

Well, he's trying something different tonight when the Yankees meet the Tampa Bay Rays.

Gardner, not Jeter, is set to leadoff, with Jeter batting second.

Is this a view of things to come in 2011? Perhaps.

Last season, Jeter set career lows in almost every offensive category—including batting average (.270) and OBP (.340). Jeter batted first 137 times last season and was out of that spot just 18 times.

In 591 at-bats leading off, Jeter batted .283. In just 96 at-bats in that spot, Gardner hit .290 and collected 12 of his 47 stolen bases.

For the season, Gardner batted .277, with a .383 OBP and 97 runs scored.

A veteran like Jeter deserves to at least start the season batting first. A career .314 hitter should not be so easily displaced from his customary position. Girardi, however, has to be willing to make the change if Jeter does not show that last season was a fluke in an otherwise stellar career.

If Girardi isn't willing to move Jeter down in the lineup during the season, does Jeter have the conviction to move himself out of that spot?

Even Jeter must recognize he's getting older. Gardner is faster, younger and much more of a stolen base threat. He possesses all the qualities one would want from a leadoff hitter. Jeter has possessed them for the last 15 years, though, and admitting those skills aren't there any longer would be difficult for anyone.

Despite the poor offensive season, Jeter still managed to score more runs (111) than he did in 2009 (109), when he batted .334 with a .406 OBP. In other words, scoring runs in the Yankee lineup isn't the most difficult task in baseball. If Jeter can improve even slightly, he should still have a productive season.

Not to mention, Jeter is too good of a player to fade so quickly.

For tonight though, it's Gardner's show. A few good games out of the leadoff spot, and perhaps Girardi will have to think about lineup changes a little harder. In the regular season, that's still Jeter's show.