TAMPA – Joe Girardi found out about Derek Jeter’s retirement announcement the same way almost everyone else did: when the New York Yankees captain posted a letter to the world on his Facebook page this week.
Girardi left snowy New York today and arrived at spring training for his seventh year as Yankees manager, and he spent the first eight minutes of his 20-minute opening news conference discussing Jeter’s decision to retire after this season.
“I think we were probably all a little bit taken aback by it,” Girardi said. “You’re never sure how someone’s going to do it, but I had no inkling that that’s what he was thinking.”
After missing the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years, the Yankees were back in business when pitchers and catchers reported ahead of Saturday’s opening workout.
Alex Rodriguez’s locker was empty following his season-long suspension. Masahiro Tanaka inherited Mariano Rivera’s locker and Shawn Kelley got Andy Pettitte’s stall. Scott Sizemore, attending camp on a minor league contract, was assigned Robinson Cano’s jersey No. 24.
Position players report next Wednesday, when Jeter holds a news conference at Steinbrenner Field to explain his decision. Girardi has exchanged texts with the 39-year-old shortstop but has not spoken with him.
“This is going to be a guy that’s hard to replace in your clubhouse and on your club,” he said. “It’s the nature of the business where people age and they move on and they go and do different things in their life, and in our life it’s a little bit quicker than some of the other working people of this world.”
Jeter was limited to 17 games last year after fracturing his left ankle in the 2012 playoffs and breaking it again last spring during his rehabilitation. Girardi said Jeter always told him “I feel great,” but that he could sense frustration.
After working out Friday with Brian Roberts at the Yankees’ minor league complex, Jeter demurred discussing his decision.
“It makes no sense to do it here and then do it again over there, so I’ll do it all over there one time,” he said.
And so now Jeter will go on a valedictory tour, much like Mariano Rivera did last year. Jeter is not the type to call attention to himself, making his public announcement before spring training all the more surprising.
“It could have been just watching how Mo did it, and how much fun everyone seemed to have with it with Mo,” Girardi said. “He might have said, you know, it’s a pretty good way to go out.”
Jeter has won five World Series titles with the Yankees but none since 2009, and his final lap of the major leagues figures to set the theme as New York tries for title No. 28. His teammates looked forward to speaking with him after he reports.
“Not really surprised, saddened I guess that he’s not going to be around,” ace pitcher CC Sabathia said. “You want a guy like that to play forever.”
Having witnessed Chipper Jones’ final season with the Atlanta Braves in 2012, new Yankees catcher Brian McCann is looking forward to Jeter’s last go-round.
“He’s been the face of baseball since he broke in,” McCann said. “I went through it with one Hall of Famer. I’m going to go through it with another.”
David Robertson, inheriting the closer’s role from Rivera, hadn’t thought Jeter would make his plans known before the season’s end.
“But I’m really glad he did,” he said. “I think it’s going to give the fans a chance to come out this year and see him in his final season in pinstripes.”
Robertson’s new job is one of many changes for the Yankees, who spent $471 million on free agents, including a $20 million payment to Tanaka’s old club in Japan. McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are among the many newcomers, and first baseman Mark Teixeira is returning from a wrist injury that sidelined him most of last season. Cano – the Yankees’ top hitter – left for a $240 million, 10-year deal with Seattle.
Girardi predicted for the April 1 opener at Houston that Yankees players at every position other than pitcher will be different from opening day last year. The only time that’s happened in franchise history was 1947, according to STATS.
“I think it is probably the biggest transition I’ve been through,” Girardi said. “I need to learn a lot of new faces fairly quickly.”