The Yankees, at least for now, are free from being forced to deal with the Big Top A-Rod Circus in spring training.
Which, for a variety of reasons, is just fine with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. Despite bringing in an impressive haul of headline-grabbing free agents this offseason, he still sees plenty on his plate.
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"We have a lot of talent,'' he said Friday afternoon, a week before his pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report. "But we still have a lot of questions despite that talent.''
One question the Yankees won't have to answer any longer is about Alex Rodriguez attending spring training. On Friday, it was announced that the third baseman was dropping his lawsuits against Major League Baseball and the players' union and would accept his suspension for the entire 2014 regular season and postseason. A-Rod's representatives also said he will not head to Tampa for spring training, saving the Yankees from an immeasurable distraction and allowing them to focus on those players who actually can help them in 2014.
At about this time last year, Cashman had approval ratings similar to those that Congress regularly receives.
The Yankees re-signed some of their own free agents before the 2013 season, not insignificant names such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda. But for a second straight offseason, they were mostly absent from the kind of big-name hunting in the marketplace that the Yankees have been known for as they continued to try to bring payroll to $189 million by 2014 to avoid luxury-tax penalties.
That changed this offseason. Staring at a second straight year of fan apathy -- which manifested itself in 2013 in declining attendance and plunging television ratings -- managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner authorized a spending binge that netted headliners such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.
Still, Cashman -- like most GMs who are declared "winners'' of a given offseason -- isn't interested in February victory laps. As he said, holes remain.
"In general, our bullpen and our infield are the biggest question marks,'' he said.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, Rivera won't be closing games. David Robertson will get the first crack at replacing him, and many believe the righthander has the stuff to close, as one talent evaluator said, "Until he does it, you don't know.''
The Yankees have to sort out who will set up Robertson, with righty Shawn Kelley and lefty Matt Thornton the primary candidates to do so. David Phelps and Vidal Nuno will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation and are likely to be bullpen-bound if they come up short. Prospects such as Preston Claiborne (who excelled in last year's first half before fading in the second), Mark Montgomery and Dellin Betances also will get long looks.
The infield, on paper, makes the bullpen look steady by comparison. Robinson Cano left a gaping hole at second when he departed for Seattle; the injury-prone Brian Roberts will get the first shot at replacing him. Kelly Johnson leads an unremarkable pack of options at third base, a group that includes Scott Sizemore, Eduardo Nunez and Dean Anna. Derek Jeter, 39, will try to come back from an injury-riddled 2013 in which he played only 17 games. It's impossible to project anything regarding first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is coming off surgery on his right wrist.
Tanaka, a 25-year-old Japanese star who is untested in the majors, will be plugged into a rotation that already includes CC Sabathia, coming off a miserable 2013 in which he went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA; Hiroki Kuroda, 39, who struggled in the final six weeks last season after a stellar first 4 months, and the inconsistent Ivan Nova.
Among those joining Phelps and Nuno in the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation are Michael Pineda -- who was the centerpiece of the Jesus Montero trade but hasn't pitched a big-league inning for the Yankees yet -- and Adam Warren.
In fact, outfield seems to be the lone position without significant questions, reinforcing a mantra of Cashman's.
"It's always good to be not comfortable,'' he said. "But I'll say I'm hopeful.''
Cashman doesn't see much benefit in being seen as a winter winner, though it's not a negative, either.
"If we've gotten our fans excited because of our winter, it's great,'' he said. "But the only thing that keeps them coming back is winning consistently.''