68° Good Afternoon
68° Good Afternoon

Better or worse? Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Bay and others

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez waves

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez waves to fans. (Feb. 19, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

It was fun standing on Steinbrenner Field yesterday, under yet another vibrant sun, and watching Derek Jeter take batting practice. Standing at ground level, to Jeter's right - as opposed to sitting above him in a press box or watching him on television - you can clearly see the adjustment Jeter has made in his batting stance, eliminating his trademark stride.

To the mind's eye, at least, it looks like Jeter is pulling the ball considerably more and driving it there with more authority. I saw it both at batting practice yesterday, during the Yankees' first full-squad workout, and at a workout last week at the team's minor-league complex.

Of course, even Jeter and Joe Girardi acknowledge that it's hard to tell how this change has taken until games start. But what the heck, if we were to start a quick game in which we guess now - before the Grapefruit League and Cactus League schedules even begin - whether a player will be better or worse, I"ll say Jeter will be better.

Why? I think Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long is one of the best at what he does, and Jeter has finally signed off on working fully with Long; as I wrote in my column (linked above), this marked the first winter in which they worked together. I also think Jeter is such a great player that he can overcome the odds that a 37-year-old shortstop can improve his performance.

What the heck. It's just a little game to get our Mondays going. If the evidence becomes clear during exhibition season that one of these projections is wrong, we'll change it. Or just never bring it up again.

--Alex Rodriguez. Scroll down in Erik Boland's notebook,, and you'll see that A-Rod is slimmer. He's down to 223 pounds from 233, and his body fat is down from 12 percent to nine percent. The goal, a team source said, was to become more wiry. More flexible. On the surface, at least, it appears that it worked. So I'll say better.

FWIW, BTW, FYI, I have heard that A-Rod did not call Fox to complain about the famed "popcorn shot" from the Super Bowl.

--Robinson Cano: I was chatting yesterday with a Yankees person who was marveling at the player Cano has become. As this person put it, Cano has transformed from an athlete with great tools to a "baseball player," which is the ultimate compliment a guy can be paid. It means that you know what you're doing out there and you maximize what you have.

Having writen that, i'll go with worse, only because I don't know how much better Can can be. It's a law of averages pick, rather than a specific condemnation of Cano.

Cano confirmed his switch of agents from Bobby Barad to Scott Boras, BTW, but it's too early to care much about them. The Yankees have two team options the next two years for $14 million and $15 millon that look like prospective bargains - even if Cano slips a little this season.

--Jason Bay: Goodness, if it isn't better, it's going to be a rather ugly Mets season, isn't it? 

--Luis Castillo: I'll go with worse, just because I don't think he'll make the Mets and he won't get a starting job anywhere else, so who knows what his season will wind up looking like? 

I read David Lennon's story, however, and I have to wonder what in the heck Terry Collins is talking about regarding Castillo moving past his dropped popup at Yankee Stadium from 2009. 

Here's the breakdown of Castillo's 2009 season:

Before the dropped popup: .373 OBP/.339 SLG/.712 OPS.

After the dropped popup: .393/.351/.745.

Collins' nonsense sounds like something Jerry Manuel would have said - something thrown out there without a scintilla of evidence to support it. Strange.

--Cliff Lee: The Phillies say that Lee strained his side about a month ago, but that he's fine now. I'll say he'll be better, in his first full National League season.

--Carlos Gonzalez: Worse, because first of all, he had quite the monster 2010 that will be difficult to match. Second of all, I wonder if he gets off to a slow start, he'll start to feel pressure to live up to his new contract extension.

--Prince Fielder: Better. It's his walk year. Ching!

Go ahead, throw in your own player and projection. It's all in good fun.

--Interesting story from Alex Speier of WEEI about Andrew Miller, whom the Red Sox signed to a contract with an interesting provision.

How did I find this story? Twitter, which I think will have an even better 2011.

--I'm still in Tampa, where the big event is A-Rod's first public words of the season. I'll check in later.

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