By Sweeny Murti
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Here are 12 questions for 2012 as the Yankees get set to open Spring Training in Tampa. The first official workout is Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
How do you make 7 go into 5?
The Yankees have too many starting pitchers. What a problem, huh? Part of this question appears to have been answered with the impending trade of A.J. Burnett. But that still leaves one man out by the time the Yankees break camp in seven weeks.
It puts a good bit of pressure on Phil Hughes to earn back his spot in the rotation and it puts Freddy Garcia in a position somewhat similar to last year, although this year he comes into camp with a contract and a roster spot.
Don’t expect Joe Girardi to announce his rotation until the final week. And, no I don’t think he will go with a six-man rotation again.
How will Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda fit in?
It took until January, but the Yankees made the move they were looking for when they acquired the potential young ace from Seattle and the established innings-eating veteran formerly of Los Angeles.
I don’t think either one was acquired to “compete” for a spot, so we’ll count both in the rotation behind CC Sabathia (Don’t get caught up in the order until October). Pineda has to prove he can not only handle New York, but also a full season grind (he tailed off in the second half last year). Kuroda has to prove he can make the adjustment from NL West to AL East.
Will A.J. Burnett be able to bounce back from his troubles?
This seems to be Pittsburgh’s problem now, or at least it will be soon. This was going to be one of the more intriguing questions of the spring, as we tried to figure out if the Yankees were actually going to use a $16.5 million dollar long reliever.
The situation on its way to being resolved, we will now play the game of looking at Burnett’s box score lines every five days and when he pitches well wonder some more why it didn’t happen here.
Can Phil Hughes regain his All-Star form of 2010?
Hughes won 18 games two years ago and appeared in just 17 games a year ago. Nagging injuries have become the norm for Hughes, who has been a slow healer. The Yankees thought he carried some extra weight last year, and they have seen to it that doesn’t happen again this year. Early reports are that Hughes is in very good shape.
Based on last year, Hughes will be put into a rotation battle along with Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova for the final two spots. Nova will not get a free ride, but does have an edge for a spot because of his strong rookie campaign. Hughes will have to pitch for his spot, but might have an edge over Garcia because the Yankees have always seen Hughes as a starter rather than a reliever. But now at age 25, it’s time for Hughes to make the jump.
Does CC stand for Calorie Control?
Let me state again what I did at the end of last season. Even though the Yankees admitted Sabathia had gained some weight during the course of last season, I don’t believe it had as much to do with his late-season performance as people think. I still don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sabathia’s performance declined when the Yankees went to a six-man rotation. This is a guy who used to want to pitch on less rest, not more.
All that said, I agree that for Sabathia’s long-term health, the weight needs to be controlled. He is an elite pitcher even at this weight, but the idea now is to alleviate any wear and tear on his lower half, especially now that the Yankees have signed the big fella to an extension.
What does it mean for the short term? I don’t think much changes with Sabathia—I expect him to remain an elite starting pitcher in the American League.
Is Curtis Granderson going to hit 40 home runs again?
I would suspect not. That’s a pretty big number to repeat even for power hitters, let alone a guy who still doesn’t consider himself a power hitter. But I do think Granderson is a transformed hitter after his much-talked-about swing tutoring from Hitting Coach Kevin Long, and I expect him to still be a force in the lineup.
Let’s put it this way—I wouldn’t expect him to hit 40 home runs again, but I would be disappointed if he didn’t hit at least 30.
What kind of a season will A-Rod have?
I am predicting plenty of talk over the next seven weeks about how healthy Alex Rodriguez feels and how he thinks he’s ready to have another monster MVP type of season.
The only problem, though, is that he will be telling us this while he plays a relaxed spring training schedule that doesn’t come close to representing the actual regular season grind. A-Rod has dealt with injuries, some nagging and others more serious, logging about 18 weeks of DL time since 2009. He played in only 99 games a year ago, the lowest total of his major league career, and will turn 37 in July.
A-Rod will talk a big game this spring about how good he feels. It will take a lot longer to see if he can back it up.
Will we see the Derek Jeter of the first half of 2011 or the Jeter of the second half?
Jeter was hitting .260 when he hit the DL in June, and he hit .331 after coming back, riding the wave of his 5-for-5 3000th hit game in July. Now he enters his 17th full season as Yankee shortstop, and turns 38 in June.
I thought last year Jeter was bound for a .280-.290 BA season with not much power. He finished at .297 with a .388 SLG (second lowest of his career, behind only the .370 mark he put up in 2010). I would expect that Jeter can have the same type of season this year, but some more decline wouldn’t be unusual.
The one thing I learned from 2011, however, is not to judge him too quickly.
Will this be Mariano Rivera’s last season?
Rivera certainly shows no signs of slowing down physically. In 2011 he posted a sub 2.00 ERA for the eighth time in the last nine seasons and a sub 1.000 WHIP for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. But now he enters the final season of a contract at age 42 and has hinted it might be time to go home and spend time with his family.
Rivera promised a year ago that he would tell us in spring training if this would indeed be his last year. That decision is likely to be the first major story out of Yankee camp.
Do the Yankees have the best setup crew to go along with the best closer?
Reliever performance is probably the most difficult thing in baseball to predict from one year to the next. The usage patterns are unlike any other position in the game, so the physical affect of one season to another is hard to figure out.
So, does David Robertson have another All-Star caliber year as 8th inning man? Even a small letdown will make him a valuable weapon again. A healthy Rafael Soriano would be nice too. And if Joba Chamberlain comes back from Tommy John surgery without complications he could make the Yankee bullpen an even bigger strength.
Joba, by the way, has been tweeting about how good he feels, and he probably wants to be ready by Opening Day, which would be about 10 months removed from his surgery. But the Yankees should be in no hurry to bring him back and will be better served making sure he’s healthy for a heavy second-half workload.
How will Jesus Montero do in Seattle?
This has little bearing on how the Yankees perform in 2011, but fans will no doubt want to see how the once prized prospect performs in his new setting. Fans will be tempted to judge the trade right away based on the immediate performances of both Montero and Pineda. Of course that’s silly, but it won’t stop us from checking the Mariners box scores on a daily basis.
Will Brian Cashman remain GM of the Yankees?
In the past this question has been about an expiring contract and the perceived notion that Cashman might want to go elsewhere. Now the question is about Cashman’s personal life creating more tabloid fodder and whether it will keep him doing his job.
Brian Cashman is not the first person to ever go through a divorce. But the early details make this question worth asking—can Cashman ignore the distraction and keep up with the day-to-day demands of being the GM of the Yankees? Usually Cashman answers questions about his players’ personal life. This time it’s different. So Cashman’s first media availability of the spring will be an interesting one.
Ownership will have to weigh in on this one too. Their support is likely to remain strong, but prolonged embarrassment in the tabloids could change that.
The search for answers begins Sunday when pitchers and catchers officially report to Tampa, with the first workout scheduled for Monday. Follow along on 660AM, wfan.com, and @YankeesWFAN on Twitter for full coverage all spring.
What is the Yankees’ biggest question heading into 2012? Let us know below…