Rounding Third: Jeter's future with Yanks could get tricky

The New York Yankees have been a nice little story here in the early going.

After losing the likes of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez this offseason, the Yankees endured a rash of injuries this spring to almost every pivotal positional player not named Robinson Cano, leading some to speculate that Joe Girardi's club may miss the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.

But even without a lineup that has yet to include Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson or Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have held their own and trail only the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.

In fact they've actually become a fun team to root for with a roster that includes castoffs like Lyle Overbay, Brennan Boesch and Vernon Wells.

On Thursday, though, the Yankees found out they would be without one of those sidelined superstars much longer than expected. And you have to wonder if he'll ever return to being the player he was.

The Yankees revealed on Thursday that Jeter will likely miss the entire first half of the season after a CT scan taken showed a small crack in the area of his injured left ankle.

Yankees general manger Brian Cashman said that the team was "looking at sometime after the All-Star break" for the captain's return.

The 38-year-old veteran had been rehabbing his surgically repaired ankle at the Yankees' spring training complex in Tampa. He traveled to Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday to meet with Dr. Robert Anderson, the same man who performed the initial surgery on his ankle last October.

Jeter originally fractured the ankle in last October's Game 1 of the American League Championship Series while awkwardly fielding a grounder in the 12th inning of what turned out to be a 6-4 loss to Detroit that ignited a four- game Tigers' sweep.

Cashman stated that an additional surgery was not needed and that 95 percent of the players who have had the same injury return with no lingering problems.

But how many of those players were about to turn 39?

The fact is Jeter is never going to be the player he was. He has now had a second major ankle injury in less than a year. His range as a shortstop came into question before; what's it going to be now should he return?

It's hard to imagine Jeter accepting a designated hitter role, but that may be where his future lies. By the way, wasn't that the plan the Yanks had for A-Rod if and when he returns? What happens now?

Now if you really want to get into a doomsday scenario, how about this: Jeter is in the last year of his contract. Yes, he has an $8 million player option for next season, but the Yankees also can buy him out at $3 million. Say the ankle isn't right come July and he needs another surgery to repair it, which would cost him the entire season.

Have we seen the last of Jeter period?

Of course, it sounds ludicrous the Yankees would play that kind of game with Jeter, who is on the Mount Rushmore of Yankees legends, But, have we forgotten his last contract negotiations? The Yankees played hardball with him then, you think something has changed three years and two major ankle injuries later? These are not your father's Yankees. They are looking to save money and if it's $5 million owed to Jeter, then so be it. Thanks for the five titles, but it's time to move on.

And by the way, that may not be the wrong move, either. Like we always hear, "everything ends badly, or it wouldn't end."

Now we are getting ahead of ourselves, but it is obviously something that needs to be thought about.

Maybe in the old days, New York would go out and get a young stud like Troy Tulowitzki to replace Jeter, but the Yankees for the time being are going to ride Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix in Jeter's absence.

Honestly, they don't lose much with Nunez at the plate, but he fields the position as if his hands are on fire. Nix, on the other hand is capable in the field, but is a lifetime .212 hitter. If you could combine the two, you may have an All-Star.

"We're going to stay as we are," Cashman said. "I'm happy with Nix and Nunez, but I'd be happier with Derek."

That could be the understatement of the year.