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Delicate spring training issues await Yankees

Jorge Posada

Jorge Posada Photo Credit: Getty Images

Derek Jeter’s deal got done, Cliff Lee picked Philadelphia over the Bronx, and Andy Pettitte decided to retire. 

Those three topics were at the forefront of an at times contentious, ultimately disappointing winter for the Yankees, who open spring training in Tampa, Fla., on Monday.

Here’s a peek at three major issues confronting the Bronx Bombers in 2011:

1. Two spots shy of a rotation

CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are a lock to be in the rotation come Opening Day.  But after Pettitte’s retirement and the failure to land Lee, the final two spots will be up for grabs. Emerging prospects such as Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman and Ivan Nova are unlikely to win a starting spot in March, though Nova impressed late last season. Look for the Yankees to take a hard look at veteran spring invitees Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre or even the oft-injured Mark Prior before handing the ball to one of their budding young hurlers. General manager Brian Cashman is likely to broker a deal for a more established solution during the season.

2. Catch-22

Jorge Posada  continues to simmer over being relegated to a full-time designated-hitter role. But the fiery catcher had better get used to riding the pine as veteran Russell Martin plays mentor to prospect Jesus Montero this spring. Montero is still adjusting to the delicacies of the position, leaving Martin, who is recovering from knee surgery, in the same role manager Joe Girardi held when he brought Posada along during his playing days as a Yankee from 1996-99. Francisco Cervelli will likely work behind Martin, especially if the 21-year-old Montero isn’t ready to don the tools of ignorance come April.

3. Protecting Jeter

In a rare show of emotion, Jeter admitted that last winter’s contract showdown with Yankee management over what turned out to be a three-year, $51 million pact irritated and angered him. But it is the Yankees who will now have to protect the 36-year-old Jeter against his own lack of range and athleticism during the 162-game grind of a season. Rookie Eduardo Nunez will caddie for Jeter throughout 2011, playing late in lopsided games or when Girardi deems his range more favorable in key situations. Also, Jeter’s career-low .270 batting average from a season ago had better move closer to his .314 career mark in a hurry if he wants to avoid even more negative attention as he approaches 3,000 hits this year.

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