Focus for Jeter is on winning a title
Yankees' captain says getting to the playoffs isn't good enough
TAMPA, Fla. -- A cursory glance at the Yankees' last campaign reveals promising highlights and opportunities for the members of the 2006 squad to thump their collective chests and look back with some fondness.
Yes, the Yankees' season ended too early for the organization's taste, abruptly coming to a close by dropping the American League Division Series to the Detroit Tigers. But the Yankees brought home their ninth straight division title, tied for the Major League lead with 97 wins, and led the big leagues with 930 runs scored.
Shouldn't that count for something? It's not good enough, Derek Jeter says.
"A lot of guys who haven't won might say that," Jeter said. "A lot of guys with other teams might say that. Here [in New York], it was a wasted year. That's the bottom line, and that's how it goes. Nobody is walking around saying, 'Oh, we had a great year last year.' It was a wasted year, because we play to win."
As Jeter spoke, he sat at his Legends Field locker, stuffing items into a midnight blue duffel bag for an afternoon road trip. Even with his attention diverted and three exhibition at-bats at St. Petersburg on tap, it's clear that Jeter's focus never wavers.
Jeter arguably gave the Yankees his finest all-around season last year, finishing second in the AL Most Valuable Player voting, while bringing home a Silver Slugger Award and his third consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Those sorts of personal achievements might play in other locales or organizations where playing in October isn't considered an annual right, but Jeter is wise enough to understand that the street credibility of such honors loses quite a bit of value within the city limits of New York.
Perhaps more than ever, with a six-year title drought hanging over the Yankees' heads, the ring is the thing up around 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.
"It's no good. You sense it because you're going home," Jeter said. "You're watching another team win, that's how you sense it. You put a lot of work in to win a championship. If you don't do it, man, it's a wasted year. The only sign is how you feel afterward."
So Jeter looks toward the reconstruction of the Yankees and barely bats an eyelash. The corner locker previously owned by Bernie Williams no longer houses either the outfielder's sweet stroke or his music, perhaps the only roster change in the Spring Training clubhouse that disappoints Jeter.
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Everything else is just icing. Among the more notable moves, Andy Pettitte is fitting in like he never left, filling the role of left-handed starter vacated by Randy Johnson, who never really quite adjusted to life as a Yankees hurler.
And top to bottom, the Yankees' lineup has already drawn rave reviews -- notably, both Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon have crowed that it must be a frightening proposition for any pitcher to face such a solid lineup.
Robinson Cano, the Yankees' projected No. 7 hitter, finished third in the AL with a .342 batting average last season. If that's not a wealth of offense, what is?
"We've got a solid lineup," Jeter agrees, "but really, scoring runs has never been a problem for us. We've been scoring runs for a while. We've got a lot of guys who can hit and a lot of guys who can beat you. We're capable in scoring in a lot of ways."
It all translated to a grand total of 14 runs in the AL Division Series, and just six after Game 1. So excuse Jeter if he appears nonplussed by exhibition game rallies against a variety of pitchers who may or may not taste the big leagues this season.
"It's the first days of Spring Training," Jeter said. "It's the first days for us, it's the first day for pitchers. What happens really for the first few weeks of Spring Training has no bearing whatsoever on the season. You just want everyone to get ready. You want no injuries and you want just to be rolling into the regular season."
It has been suggested that the clubhouse might feel a little fresher and more relaxed, but Jeter doesn't see it that way. He'll reserve judgment until he sees it play out on the field. Jeter has seen the assemblage fall short of the dreams far too many times this decade.
"Ever since we lost in 2001, it's always new guys coming in and new guys coming out," Jeter said.
As Jeter points out, there are still only four players in the Yankees' clubhouse -- Pettitte, catcher Jorge Posada, closer Mariano Rivera and himself -- who can claim ownership of a World Series ring from the team's four-title dynasty.
A new piece of hardware, Jeter said, that is long overdue.
"There's restlessness for everyone -- not just us four," Jeter said. "It's everyone who's in the organization. We play to win here. It's not to get to the playoffs or get to the World Series. It's to try and win a championship. Everyone should be restless."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.