When last we saw Derek Jeter on a baseball field, he was laying in a heap on the infield at Yankee Stadium after breaking his ankle in Game One of what became a quick ALCS loss to the Tigers.
Since then we've seen Jeter from time to time, always with a protective boot on his ankle and occasionally looking a bit more bloated than we're used to seeing him. Jeter's out of the boot now, though, and he's started working out at Yankees HQ in Tampa to get himself ready to go for the start of the season.
Jeter's not doing baseball activities yet -- they're scheduled to start later this month -- and he's only running on a treadmill in a pool, but he's feeling optimistic about making it back in time for the April 1 opener.
"I do," Jeter said. "I feel good. I am where I need to be. I am right where I should be."
Jeter's expected to be rehabbing when his teammates report in a month and will probably be on that track for a good chunk of spring training before he gets back onto the field. That's still well before Alex Rodriguez returns.
A-Rod's going to have his hip surgery on Wednesday and his doctor said recently that it will be impossible to come up with a firm timeline for his return until he gets inside and sees the level of damage. No one's expecting to see him before the All-Star break, which means Kevin Youkilis will have plenty of time to get comfortable at third base.
When you throw in Mariano Rivera's return from last year's torn ACL, you've got a lot of key players with question marks around them heading into the season. Since Brian Cashman's marching orders do not include throwing money at things anymore, it's going to be up to Joe Girardi to handle these players (and the other aging Yankees) in a way that keeps them at peak performance without grinding them down physically.
It won't be an easy task, but it does make positions like utility infielder and fifth reliever in the bullpen a bit more significant than they might seem on the surface. Depth has been something the Yankees have taken more seriously in recent years and it will never be more important to their chances of making a serious run than they are now.