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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees' infield is kind of a patch job

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. - On the eve of Derek Jeter taking the podium to announce his farewell tour, Brian Cashman described the Yankees' 2014 infield as a "developing story."

Interesting choice of words. "Developing story." It's the same term TV news anchors reach for to tease breaking coverage of a tornado or bridge collapse. Usually, it's the kind of story you want to cover your eyes for, but can't help watching through spread fingers.

Often, it's not a happy ending.

Even Cashman has no idea how this is going to turn out. After dumping nearly $500 million into this year's roster, the Yankees' infield has largely been pieced together by a surgeon's expertise and spare parts.

That part we already knew. It's not like Robinson Cano signed his $240-million deal with the Mariners yesterday. The Yankees spent what they could to cover up that gaping hole, but it's a patch job, plain and simple. There are a variety of ways to fill out a lineup card, and the strategy this offseason was to use the Cano money for other needs.

Such a plan could work. Cashman just has to hope for a best-case scenario, one in which Jeter can be an everyday shortstop again, Mark Teixeira's wrist is sturdy enough for a full season and the primary fill-ins at the other two infield spots -- Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson -- are adequate replacements.

Sound like a lot to ask for? Cashman thinks so, too. When asked yesterday if he felt "comfortable" with the current infield alignment, the general manager deferred until a later date. Let's assume he doesn't mean April 1.

"I think I can answer that later in camp," Cashman said. "We're hopeful that we can catch some lightning in a bottle in some areas, hope for some good health in some areas and hope for some guys to get back from injuries and do what they're accustomed to doing."

The only sure thing the Yankees had was Cano, a perennial MVP candidate, and they were more than OK to be outbid by the Mariners. Since Hal Steinbrenner gave the green light to blow past the $189-million luxury threshold, we can assume money wasn't the primary reason for ditching the homegrown Cano. The crossfire that erupted yesterday over Kevin Long's comments suggested there may have been other motivation for letting him walk.

After Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon took a few personal shots at Long for saying Cano essentially dogged it on occasion, the Yankees' hitting coach hardly denied the allegations. Long mostly praised Cano for his hard work and "character," but also said anyone could see that Cano "doesn't sprint down to first." Cashman also brought it up when asked, yet still called Cano an "incredible Yankee."

But there's no point in obsessing over Cano now. He's gone. The Yankees have plenty to worry about with the group currently housed at Steinbrenner Field. And at the moment, Cashman doesn't sound like he plans to make any significant new additions, even with Stephen Drew still available.

That doesn't mean Drew's agent, Scott Boras, will stop trying. Boras put on the full-court press to get Jacoby Ellsbury signed in a matter of days and then tried to get Shin-Soo Choo to the Bronx as well. He almost did, but Carlos Beltran jumped at a three-year, $45-million deal first.

With Jeter announcing his retirement last week, Boras could have another chance to put the hard sell on Steinbrenner. But Cashman appears to be sticking to the Jeter plan for the time being -- without seeing him inasmuch as a simulated game. The GM has little choice. To say anything else would be considered disrespectful to the captain, and Cashman even refused to open the door to Brendan Ryan as a late-inning defensive replacement. It's Jeter or bust.

"He's our man," Cashman said. "I'm more curious or anxious about the other positions."

Aren't we all. Starting Thursday, when the Yankees have their first full-squad workout, Cashman will begin the on-field portion of the evaluation process. Coming up with answers will take a bit longer. And solutions for a six-month season? That's too much to think about right now.

"Most players other than Robby Cano don't play 162 games," Cashman said.

Thanks for reminding us.


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