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The Yankees' spring-training "questions"

New York Yankees' Joba Chamberlain pitches during

New York Yankees' Joba Chamberlain pitches during today's spring training workout at the George Steinbrenner field in Tampa Fl. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Most teams have questions to answer in spring training, but the Yankees have "questions" - decisions that have essentially been made in January, but team officials just want to make sure everything looks all right during Grapefruit League action. Understanding, of course, that changes can be made if the Florida evidence is too difficult to overlook.

You could argue that the Yankees had three primary calls to make this spring. At least, that's what I'm going to argue. So far, those "questions" have produced answers of "Probably," "Absolutely" and "We'll let it play out some more, but by the playoffs, probably."

The breakdown:

1. Who is the fifth starter? Once Joba Chamberlain completed his odd 2009, the Yankees discussed his future, and realized that he would probably end up as Mariano Rivera's setup man in 2010. There's little reason to think that Chamberlain has changed that fate. He has a 27.00 ERA, although a) he was coming off an illness in his last appearance, and b) Buster Olney reported of optimism by Yankees officials that Chamberlain reached 93-94 mph before petering out.

A guy as talented as Chamberlain should be tried as a starter - but only if he's into it. While Chamberlain talked tough in pre-camp interviews, that he would be trying to win the fifth starter's job, once he arrived in camp, he's been offering repeated versions of this thought he offered me last month, in comparing relieving to starting: "I don’t want to say your focus is different down there (in the bullpen), but you also know that you don’t have to be as perfect as a starter as you do in the bullpen.”

That sentiment drives Yankees people to believe that Joba is destined, now, to be a reliever. Because when he started last year, he certainly seemed to treat the job with less urgency than club officials desired. Unlike back in 2008, when he approached starting with a ferocity similar to his trademark relief appearances.

Hughes, meanwhile, has been all right as a starter, hardly dominant, and with Alfredo Aceves excelling, there is the sentiment that Aceves could be the fifth starter with both Hughes and Chamberlain in the bullpen. But Hughes has the higher upside than Aceves, and the team really has to start developing some starting pitching of its own if Hal Steinbrenner continues to operate under a real budget.

So the answer to this question is, "Probably Hughes."

2. Who will hit second? This was the easiest one. As long as Nick Johnson is healthy enough to be active, he'll hit second. Yes, he runs the bases only a little better than Jason Giambi, and the Yankees will miss that component of having Johnny Damon hit second. Yet it's a very fair tradeoff to have the slow Johnson getting on more base than the faster Damon does.

The answer, therefore, is "Definitely Johnson." As Joe Girardi indicated with his words in this story by Erik Boland. It makes sense to hit Robinson Cano fifth and Curtis Granderson seventh, relative both to their skills and mixing up the lefties with the switch-hitters in the bottom of the lineup.

3. What will the outfield alignment be? Part of running your team well is knowing the personalities involved. So it's understandable that the Yankees wanted to let Curtis Granderson get a little comfortable as a Yankee before they started testing him as a leftfielder, putting him there on Saturday.

Ken Rosenthal (scroll down) offers his reasons why Granderson will be the Yankees' Opening Day centerfielder. It's sound reasoning, and a safe bet. But I'm more interested in who will be the Yankees' centerfielder in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, and I'm putting my money on Gardner for that bet.

Many Yankees decision-makers feel that, in a vacuum, their best lineup has Gardner in centerfield and Granderson in left. The goal for the team is to create an atmosphere in which that vision can be executed.

So the answer to this question is, "We'll let it play out some more, but by the playoffs, probably Gardner."

--Kiko Calero had a rough first outing for the Mets, Jim Baumbach writes. At some point, especially if Jon Niese continues to indicate that he can be the fifth starter, the Mets have to consider how Fernando Nieve would look in that bullpen mix.

--Good piece by Alex Speier on the evolution of general managers over the last decade. It's not as dramatic as you might think, when it comes to age. Whereas, a decade ago, I wouldn't have found this story on Twitter, as I did last night.









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