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Girardi in transition phase as camp begins

TAMPA, Fla. -- When manager Joe Girardi sits at his office desk and begins rolling around the options for his Opening Day lineup, he will begin the biggest transitional phase he has experienced at the helm of the club.

Change is in the air as the Yankees filter into George M. Steinbrenner Field this week. There are some familiar faces, but Girardi suspects that his first lineup of the season may feature a different name at every position.

"I do believe as far as a manager, this is the biggest transition I've been through," Girardi said on Friday.

Girardi rattled off the positions, one by one, and proved his point. Brett Gardner projects to be the only starter returning from the batting order Girardi sent out to open the 2013 campaign, and even Gardner will likely be manning a different outfield position.

"I think it's important that I get to know these guys and how they react in different situations," Girardi said. "What makes them comfortable; how you push them and don't push them. I need to learn a lot of new faces fairly quickly."

Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are among the biggest signings of the offseason, highlighting a spending spree that totaled more than $500 million.

Girardi will also be deciding how best to plug in such players as Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson and Matt Thornton while welcoming back Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, who missed most of the 2013 season due to injuries.

"I think we have a collection of very good hitters this year. I think our lineup is much deeper than it was last year, from top to bottom," Girardi said. "There's more balance with some of the switch-hitters, Tex coming back and Beltran.

"Having [Alfonso] Soriano the whole year, bringing Jeet back, I think there's much more balance in our lineup."

First and foremost, Girardi plans to have a discussion with Jeter about his decision to retire at the end of the season. The two texted after Wednesday's announcement, but Girardi would like to speak with Jeter face to face.

"I think we were probably all a little bit taken aback by it," Girardi said. "You're never sure how someone's going to do it, but I had no inkling that that's what he was thinking."

It's no secret that Jeter was upset by his inability to stay on the field last season, Girardi said.

"That was really clear," he said. "We all know how much he loves to be out there. Even when he was trying to fight through it, he would tell me he felt great. His words that he always uses to me: 'I feel great.' But you could see how frustrated he was that it just wasn't healed completely."

All reports on Jeter thus far have been positive, and Girardi said it would be "ideal" if he could count on batting Jeter second in the lineup to break up the left-handed hitters. As in past years, Girardi said that there would be constant communication to determine how often Jeter plays.

"I've said all along that he'll basically determine that on how he's doing and how he's feeling," Girardi said. "Obviously, as a manager you would love to be able to run Derek Jeter out there every day, but we know that's not the case."

Girardi experienced a taste of easing players into retirement last season with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, so it won't be all that foreign when the Yankees arrive play before packed houses -- both at home and on the road -- clamoring to see Jeter in the lineup.

"It's been a thrill," he said. "I think about playing alongside these guys and watching these guys go out on their own terms -- it's been pretty exciting. I feel like I'm really blessed to have that opportunity to manage these guys and watch them end their careers the way they want.

"You wish you could bring them back, and I joked with Mo when I saw him a couple of times at some events this winter, but I feel like I've been able to experience so many great things at the stadium because of these guys. And I love it."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.

New York Yankees