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Yankees' infield could be a sore spot all season

Yankees' Kelly Johnson works out on the morning

Yankees' Kelly Johnson works out on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. - Early in spring training, a member of the Yankees' personnel department characterized the state of the infield.

"Scary," he said.

He did not mean scary good.

No one sees the Yankees' infield, as currently constituted, that way.

An opposing team scout put it another way.

"A mess," he said.

The man whose job it is to address such issues hasn't exactly run away from the problem.

"A developing story," general manager Brian Cashman called the infield situation early in spring training.

And after that, not much developed, at least in terms of adding personnel.

But the news hasn't been all negative.

Mark Teixeira, who was limited to 15 games last season because of a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist and the ensuing surgery, has looked rusty at times but, most important, has experienced no setbacks to this point.

Brian Roberts, brought in to replace Robinson Cano at second base, avoided injury setbacks, no small thing for a player limited to an average of 48 games the last four seasons because of an assortment of injuries.

And Derek Jeter, while a step behind at the plate, nonetheless looks fully recovered from the injuries, mostly related to his left ankle, that allowed him to play in only 17 games in 2013.

"He looks like a 39-year-old," another opposing team scout said of Jeter. "But a healthy 39-year-old, which is saying something after what he's been through."

In fact, Cashman, at least publicly, isn't fretting about his shortstop or first baseman, who declared when he showed up in late February that he expects to play at least 150 games.

Teixeira acknowledged that he won't know how his surgically repaired wrist will respond until he is tested four or five days in a row by pitchers throwing in the low-to-mid-90s.

"Tex is going to be at first, DJ's going to be at short and what we're going to get is what we're going to get," Cashman said when spring training began. "I'm hopeful. I'm more curious or anxious about the other positions."

There is plenty to be anxious about with Jeter and Teixeira, of course, but you can see Cashman's point.

Filling in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez at third base is Kelly Johnson, who has been a useful utility player in his career but has only 16 games (12 starts) under his belt at third. Johnson, 32, had never played third until last season with the Rays when Gold Glover Evan Longoria needed a break.

"I've been in the game a few years and you take some things from guys," Johnson said. "Now it's just a matter of getting work on a consistent basis, but you need the game speed and the game reps."

Johnson said Longoria proved to be a good tutor and added that he's gotten help from infield coach Mick Kelleher and guest instructors Willie Randolph and Jody Reed.

Unrealistic as it may be to expect Johnson to go from 12 career starts at third to a productive 100-games-plus player there, it might be more of a stretch to expect Roberts to fill Cano's shoes.

Not that Roberts, or the Yankees for that matter, see him needing to do so.

"Robbie's such a special player. I'm not going to go in and try and be Robbie," Roberts said. "Nobody will be."

Roberts has been an All-Star- caliber player in his career but hasn't been able to stay on the field during the last four seasons.

One opposing team executive said the loss of Cano isn't just going to be felt at the plate. It's the plays in the field that Cano made with regularity that few others, if any, make.

"That double play he turned so easily doesn't get turned anymore," the official said. "All of a sudden, you're still in the inning and you have to get Chris Davis and he's hitting with a couple of guys on. That stuff takes its toll on pitchers."

How much of a toll Jeter's age will take on him after a season he called a "nightmare" is one of the great mysteries of the upcoming year.

Although Cashman said it is not a worry, some in the organization privately say they'd be thrilled if Jeter could play 120 games. But even that might be a stretch for a player who will turn 40 June 26 and is coming off multiple leg injuries.

As long as shortstop Stephen Drew remains unsigned, the Yankees can't be counted out as an option. Jeter's backup, Brendan Ryan, is outstanding with the glove, but his hitting is a concern and he had back problems in spring training.

All of the worries regarding the infield prompted Cashman to have his scouts scour the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues for depth. It didn't appear as if there would be any additions by the end of spring training, but -- paraphrasing an annual Cashman line -- there's nothing that says all roster fixes have to occur by Opening Day.

"I constantly talk to our players, my job is to find someone better than who we've got," Cashman said. "But we have what we have currently in camp, and all those answers will be here unless something declares itself and presents itself that's better elsewhere that I can secure. It's as simple as that.

"Otherwise, we're very pleased with how camp is going. But my job as general manager is always to find. If you can find something better that makes sense and that you can secure, I'm not afraid of that."

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