By Brad Carroll
There's more questions than answers for the New York Yankees and their fan base as Spring Training quickly approaches. From the health of pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, to the new, light-hitting middle of the infield, to the return of Alex Rodriguez, there will be plenty of storylines to focus on in the coming days and weeks.
As trucks head from the Bronx to Florida as you read this, carrying equipment and all the baseball paraphernalia you can imagine, there's no better time to take an early look at what to watch for concerning the biggest questions facing the Yankees this spring.
Does A-Rod Fit?
The Yankees did everything they could this offseason to limit what role Alex Rodriguez will have on this year's team. They signed Chase Headley to play third base every day, so Rodriguez had his position taken away. There also might not be as many opportunities to be the every day designated hitter, as the Yankees will have guys like Carlos Beltran and Chris Young taking up at-bats. So, where does A-Rod fit? It all depends on how he hits. If Rodriguez tears it up in Spring Training and beyond, he's going to play every day, no matter how much the Yankees hierarchy would hate it. He could play third possibly once a week, to spell Headley, and DH the rest. If Mark Teixeira can't stay on the field, Rodriguez's time at third could increase, as Headley would move over to first base. That's about the only way A-Rod will see significant time at third. If Rodriguez can't hit, he won't play. It'll be that simple. As always, what A-Rod does this spring will be the biggest storyline.
Will Aces Return To Full Strength?
Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda should be ready to go when Spring Training opens, which is great news for the Yankees. If Tanaka or Pineda can't stay healthy for the majority of the season, the Yankees will fall short of the playoffs once again. The news on Tanaka has been nothing but positive this offseason, and considering he ended the season pitching in real games for the Yankees, he should be a full-go this spring. Pineda also should be considering a full-participant. With Tanaka and Pineda, the main focus this spring will be to build up innings and stay healthy.
What About CC?
The former Yankees ace, CC Sabathia, is another huge question mark, more so for his sudden decline skill-wise, rather than simply the rash of injuries he's had to deal with. Yankees fans shouldn't get to see much of Sabathia this spring, as he needs to be coddled enough to be ready to pitch in the regular season, but not overworked to where he will be gone by the All-Star break. If Sabathia is anything near what he was at the beginning of his Yankees career, the rotation will be fantastic. If not, the Yankees will have a below-average player getting ace money. It's a big spring and season for Sabathia.
Who's In The Middle?
Does the second base-shortstop combination of Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius get you excited for this upcoming season? It shouldn't. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has long had a weird fascination with Drew, and he finally got his guy last year, adding the former shortstop through a trade with Boston. Drew responded by batting .150 in 46 games. That was even worse than the .176 he hit 39 games with the Red Sox. The one-year, $5 million deal is reasonable, but Drew is terrible and shouldn't have the opportunity to start at second base for the Yankees. Gregorius is a complete unknown, but has plenty of upside, especially considering he'll turn just 25 later this month. It's a strange pairing in the middle of the infield - veteran on a severe decline with a young player with potential - but the Yankees need both to contribute or the offense will go south just as it has the past two seasons. Spring Training will be big for both to prove they belong in the starting lineup. If Drew struggles it might be time for Cashman to reach into the minor leagues and give Rob Refsnyder the opportunity to prove himself on the big stage.
Do Teixeira, Beltran Have Anything Left?
Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran both have question marks surrounding themselves heading into Spring Training. Teixeira, after a solid first season in the Bronx, has been terrible the past five years and now can't even stay on the field, as injuries have made him completely unreliable. This spring will be the time to see if there is anything left in Teixeira's bat and injury-riddled body. Beltran was a mistake as a free agency signing, and that was proven last year as he batted .233 in just 109 games. Will Beltran have any kind of impact this season? That question will at least be partially answered with how his body deals with spring training.
Who Will Close?
It should be Dellin Betances, who has so far followed the career path of Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees could give the job to free agent Andrew Miller. If Betances pitches as he did last year this spring, he has to be the closer. It's definitely something to watch.
The Yankees traded Martin Prado, who was the team's best player down the stretch last season, to the Marlins for young pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, which makes the soon-to-be 25-year old the X-Factor this spring and season. Eovaldi has impressive stuff, but it hasn't translated to the majors just yet. If he is the pitcher the Yankees envision, the rotation, if healthy, could be a huge strength. He won't get the hype or coverage of the big three of Tanaka, Pineda or Sabathia, but he could be just as important.