Yankees Manager Joe Girardi addresses the media on the first...

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi addresses the media on the first day of spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. (Feb. 14, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. - The first question of Joe Girardi's kickoff news conference was about the starting rotation.

No surprise there.

The topic dominated the Yankees' offseason and is their top story line of spring training. After all, not many teams that consider themselves contenders have two-fifths of their rotation unsettled. That's the case with the Yankees, who don't yet know their Nos. 4 and 5 starters.

"The chances that the fourth- and fifth-starter role will be answered sooner than later are not very good," Girardi said Monday. "I think we'll spend all spring evaluating everyone in our camp."

Assuming the Yankees don't bring in another starter during camp - although it's always a possibility, and general manager Brian Cashman said he's open to anything that "makes sense" - that competition will be among a mix of arms.

Ivan Nova, who started seven games last season, is an early favorite to land a spot. Prospects Adam Warren, David Phelps and Dellin Betances will get looks, as will veterans Sergio Mitre, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. The latter two were brought in on minor-league contracts.

"We're going to look at everyone in our camp," Girardi said. "Basically, we're going to have an open competition for that fourth and fifth slot. And we're not going to make a decision early."

A.J. Burnett's rotation spot is a given - Girardi wouldn't say whether it will be No. 2 or 3 - but the bigger issue is how he comes back from his career-worst season.

"I know how much A.J. cares," Girardi said. "I know how much A.J. cares about this organization and about his teammates . . . I just have a feeling in my gut that he's going to have a good year."

Girardi said Derek Jeter, coming off a career-worst season at the plate, still will be his leadoff hitter. Asked if Jeter will remain there if his performance mirrors last year's, Girardi called that a "hypothetical" he wouldn't get into.

He did say: "You have to prove yourself year in and year out no matter who you are. That's just the nature of the game. But I expect him to be our leadoff hitter and our everyday shortstop. That's what we signed him to do."

Joba Chamberlain pitched well the last two months of last season, but he also has to prove himself.

"He needs to carry that over, just like anyone else in our bullpen," Girardi said. "That's the way we evaluate all [our players]. The better you play, the more you're going to play."

Notes & quotes: David Wells is among the guest instructors at camp. Others are Yogi Berra, Tino Martinez, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry and Lee Mazzilli . . . Andruw Jones' signing was made official.

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