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Jeter flashing new form this spring

Captain adjusted winter workout to increase agility, quickness
02/22/2008 6:09 PM ET
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com

Jeter chases after a pop-up during a workout.(AP)
TAMPA, Fla. — Derek Jeter was "flattered" by Alex Rodriguez's fitting the Yankees shortstop for an MVP Award, but the captain — true to his team-first form — would rather win another World Series instead.

One day after Rodriguez, unprovoked, threw out a prediction that Jeter would capture an honor that has thus far eluded him in his career, the shortstop said that raising a flag at the end of the season is by far the most important goal.

"I don't really think about [an MVP Award]," Jeter said on Friday. "The bottom line is — I've said it time and time again — you play to win. You always want to do well, because the better you do, the better the team can be."

After a lengthy workout on Thursday, Rodriguez was asked about Bobby Abreu's outlook for the 2008 season. While predicting Abreu would have a "monster season," A-Rod also took the opportunity to praise Jeter's conditioning after an offseason during which he tweaked his workout program.

"I think Jeter is going to have an MVP season," Rodriguez said. "That's my prediction for the year. I think he's going to have an explosive, monster season. I think he's in great shape. I think he did some great things this winter with his workouts. I'm very excited for his year."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he expects bright things from Jeter once more, especially with the altered conditioning regimen.

"Jete took a lot of initiative this winter to do what he always does, and that's try to get better," Girardi said. "That's who Derek Jeter is. He strives to be the best that he can be on a daily basis and to win championships. He's just carrying on."

For all the featured accolades in Jeter's career, the 34-year-old has still been unable to call an MVP Award his own. Jeter's closest call came in 2006, when he batted .343 but finished second to the Twins' Justin Morneau.

After dealing with nagging injuries last year, numerous insiders described Jeter's reporting shape this spring as trim and agile. Diet played a role — in past seasons, Jeter said he tried to eat as much as possible in an attempt to gain weight and prepare him for the long regular season.

The effort never worked especially well, so this offseason, Jeter decided to succumb to his metabolism and play the cards he has been dealt. Jeter and A-Rod discussed the changes over lunch — likely a light one — on Thursday.

"I've done some different things this offseason to try to get better and try to improve," Jeter said. "That was basically the extent of the conversation. I did a lot of speed, agility and lateral movement — a lot of explosive stuff to try and get quicker and move around a little better."

Though Jeter doesn't want to give the number-crunchers credence, improving his mobility could help him rebound after a recent scientific study called him the worst-fielding shortstop in baseball.

The three-time Gold Glover was slighted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who analyzed every ball put in play from 2002-05 to tabulate their results, which were unveiled earlier this month.

Long a favorite target of the fans Johnny Damon calls "stat rats," the impact of the study didn't hurt Jeter as much as the numerous bumps and bruises from the '07 season, when he struggled to snare balls hit up the middle.

Girardi chuckled dismissively when the topic of the study came up, saying that numbers — no matter how you calculate them — cannot define a leader.

"You can make a poll or you can make a study look the way you want, and it's not going to measure a complete player," Girardi said. "You can take an offensive statistic and say, 'This guy is the best guy in the league,' but you've still got to do things in the game.

"I don't think it takes into account the steadiness of him at short and that you can count on him every day to be the same guy."

To further his point, Girardi raised a hypothetical scenario. If the Yankees offered Jeter to any one of the other 29 clubs and would pick up all but the league minimum of Jeter's salary, would there be any club not interested in adding Jeter to their 25-man roster?

"I think 29 other teams would love to have Derek Jeter," Girardi said. "To me, that's the sign of the player you've got."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com.
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