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01/25/11 5:27 PM EST

Cashman: Jeter could move to outfield in future

But Yankees general manager says 'he's our shortstop' now

NEW YORK -- If Derek Jeter is asked to make a position switch later in his career, it would likely be to the outfield, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Tuesday.

In a telephone interview, Cashman clarified comments he made during a question-and-answer session in Times Square, where a fan asked if the Yankees envision Jeter staying at shortstop for the next four years.

Cashman replied that he would be "surprised" if Jeter played all of those seasons at shortstop. He also later said that Jeter's athleticism would translate better to the outfield than to third base.

The GM said that the comments, made at a breakfast meet-and-greet sponsored by the radio station WFAN, reflected his opinion and were not necessarily an indication of the team's future thinking.

"Thankfully, that's not something we're going to have to deal with right now," Cashman told MLB.com. "He's our shortstop. I think his athletic abilities would carry him to the outfield if he ever had to change positions, but obviously he's working hard to stay at shortstop."

At a reception for the Baseball Assistance Team dinner in midtown Manhattan, former big league slugger Darryl Strawberry -- a close friend of Jeter's -- said that he can't see the five-time Gold Glove Award winner moving anywhere on the diamond.

"It'll never happen," Strawberry said. "I could never see Jeter playing the outfield. Knowing him as well as I do, as much as he loves the game and all the great things he's accomplished in the game as a shortstop, there would be no reason for that.

"Once he retires, he's definitely a first-ballot Hall of Famer -- there's no question about it. So why waste your time messing around in the outfield after you've been a shortstop your whole career?"

"Thankfully, that's not something we're going to have to deal with right now. He's our shortstop. I think his athletic abilities would carry him to the outfield if he ever had to change positions, but obviously he's working hard to stay at shortstop."

-- GM Brian Cashman, on Derek Jeter

Gene Michael, a Yankees special advisor and senior vice president, said that any talk of Jeter's position switch is premature.

"There's always been talk about Derek moving to center field, but I don't think that's necessary," Michael said. "He has good athletic ability and hasn't lost a lot yet. I think he could play a different position if he was asked to and wanted to, but I look at him right now as a shortstop."

Jeter, 37, signed a three-year, $51 million deal in December, with a player option for the 2014 season.

During a news conference announcing the deal in Tampa, Fla., Jeter said: "I was told this was a negotiation about me being a shortstop of the Yankees. A position change was never brought up."

Cashman said that he answered the fan's question in that fashion because it was not in a formal setting.

"Nothing more than that," Cashman said. "No declaration, no internal plans, nothing we've discussed. It was just me responding to a question about whether I see in the future that he's moving from short to third."

Longtime big league manager Lou Piniella said he thought Jeter would be able to make the transition from the infield to the outfield if that is the Yankees' ultimate decision.

"Look, I'm sure Derek can play anywhere on the field," Piniella said. "He's had a heck of a career at shortstop. He's a great player. Shortstop is the most demanding position on the field, and I'm sure if you can play shortstop, you can play elsewhere."

Maybe, maybe not. Former big leaguer Howard Johnson was moved from the infield to the outfield by the Mets in 1992 and said it was one of the most difficult processes of his career.

"At his age, I don't see it," Johnson said. "Anything is possible, but I went from the infield to the outfield when I was almost 32 years old. That was one of the toughest things I ever did.

"There's a lot physically that goes into that. It's one of those things that if you do it, you've got to do it early. ... It's [a] never-ending [process]. You go to camp and you spend more time at that than you do with your hitting, because it's a big change."

The topic, if it arises in concrete fashion, will also present a delicate issue for manager Joe Girardi in moving an iconic player off his position. It was a task Davey Johnson had to handle with the Orioles, telling Cal Ripken Jr. he could no longer play shortstop.

"When I came into Baltimore [in 1996], Cal was actually running that team. He was calling pitches from shortstop," Johnson said. "As a manager, you have to take control of a team. What I had to do was tell Cal, 'I do have the right to move you to third.'

"You just make decisions on the ballclub that will be the best. If you don't make those decisions that the players know that you should make, then you've got no chance to manage that club. Girardi, whatever he does with Jeter, he's got to be right so all the players agree with what he did -- and Jeter [has to agree] himself."

Having spent nearly two decades proudly holding the title of Yankees shortstop, it seems unlikely that Jeter -- who scarcely can be found in the outfield even during batting practice -- will suddenly decide he wants to challenge himself with a new position.

"I don't know what the future is going to hold," Cashman said. "But in response to that, I thought his athletic abilities more translate to the outfield than moving to a corner-infield spot. Thankfully, we're not there yet. He's our shortstop."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.