Monday, February 20, 2012

5 Burning Questions Spring Training Edition

Yesterday officially kicked off the 2012 New York Yankees season as pitchers and catchers reported for the first day of spring training.  Though the day consisted mostly of the players taking physicals and throwing long toss, without Joe Girardi, the idea of baseball finally starting up again was music to my ears.

As the rest of the players begin to arrive in Tampa, here are some burning questions to keep an eye on for the next six weeks as the regular season approaches.

1. After C.C. who's next?
Joe Girardi confirmed today in his first press conference, that C.C. Sabathia will be the Yankees No. 1 starter, which is not a surprise to anyone.  Sabathia showed up to Tampa noticeably slimmer, weighing  290 pounds, down from 315 which is the weight he finished last season at.  But after Sabathia, Girardi will have to consider how to round out his rotation.  He has the newly acquired Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda as well as Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia to round out his rotation. Thankfully, he has A.J. Burnett off of his hands

Too many pitchers is always better than having not enough.  Pineada will obviously make the rotation as will Nova and Kuroda.  This means the fifth starter's role will come down between Hughes and Garcia.  Earlier in the off season, general manager Brian Cashman said Garcia will not have to compete for a roster spot but, that was before the signing of Pineda and Kuroda.  If Garcia beats Hughes for the final spot, Hughes will obviously slide to the bullpen but will he be as effective? Hughes also showed up to camp looking slimmer as well while adding muscle.  Would Cashman trade Garcia if Hughes beats him out?  We'll see.

My guess: Sabathia, Nova, Pineda, Kuroda, Hughes. 

2. Who will be the primary back up catcher?
Girardi all but confirmed that Francisco Cervelli will resume his duty of Russell Martin's back up in today's press conference.  But, what if Cervelli's on again/off again concussion symptoms become a problem again?  After trading away Jesus Montero to the Mariners, the Yankees are down to one player who is on the active roster: Austin Romine.

Romine impressed the coaching staff last season when he appeared in nine games for the Yankees.  Though he is not as well equipped with his bat as Montero, his defensive skills go above and beyond Montero's.  Romine is just 23 years old and another season in the minors may help his bat develop.  But, if Cervelli or Martin down for an extended period of time, I expect Romine to be back with the club.  He has the benefit of having worked with Hughes and Nova in the minors while they were all teammates. 

3. The DH situation 
While this may look like it's resolved, with the signing of Raul Ibanez, I think the situation is anything but.  The reality is Ibanez will be 40 in June and in all likelihood, his best days are behind him.  The DH spot was already an overcrowded position for the Yankees, in my opinion.  Andruw Jones was brought back to hit against righties while the team also has two aging veterans, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, whose bodies would appreciate a little break every now and then at the DH position.  Ibanez, who will hit mostly lefties, knew what he was getting himself into though as his contract is incentive heavy contract.  Ibanez was signed to a $1.1 million contract but has the opportunity to make $4 million with incentives. 

4. The health of Alex Rodriguez 
It's no secret that Alex Rodriguez's best and healthy days are behind him.  Last season, Rodriguez was limited to just 99 games due to a lingering knee injury.  Because of the injury, Rodriguez's power numbers were down with only 16 home runs and 62 RBI's.  Everyone believed Rodriguez would continue to get healthy over the off season, but he had a mysterious knee surgery over the winter in Germany which was also performed on Kobe Bryant previously.  Rodriguez has not played in 150 games since the 2007 season and at 36, he's more likely to have injuries than a 26 year old.  For what it's worth, Cashman said that Rodriguez is healthy, but we'll see what happens once the grind of the 162 game season begins.

5. Will Mark Teixeira return to form?
Teixeira is an interesting player to take a look at.  In the 2011 season, he played in 156 games and hit 39 home runs while driving in 111 runs, but hit just .248. Teixeira admitted he was frustrated with his lack of consistency and did not like that he was hitting just mostly home runs.  Since Teixeira signed with New York, his number of hits per year has decreased dramatically.  In 2009, his first season with the team, he had 178 hits, 2010: 256 and last year 148.  It was particularly frustrating when runners were in scoring position and Teixiera often struck out or flew out to end a rally.

Fans should not be complaining about his production given the number of runs he drives in each year, but hearing that Teixeria is frustrated is comforting to know that he wants to improve and return to being the all around player he once was.  Sadly, his days as an American League All Star may be over as Albert Pujols makes the switch to the AL this season.  Teixeira will have to compete with Pujols, Detroit's Prince Fielder and Boston's Adrian Gonzalez to find a spot on the roster.

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