As we are on the eve of baseball's de facto Groundhog's Day in pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training it is truly a sign that the season and better weather, for those ofus ravaged by the blizzard is on the way. The typical cliche that is thrown around this time of year is that "hope springs eternal" and that is true for all teams but for this year's Yankee team, it seems as though there is a prevailing bearish outlook. In that spirit here are "five looming questions" surrounding the Yankees as they prepare to head south to Tampa:
5) How will they handle the Catcher Position?
In what was viewed as just another cost-cutting measure in the lead-up to 2014, the Yankees opted to let their starting catcher of the past two seasons, Russell Martin, walk in free agency and sign with the Pirates. Martin's departure has left a void at catcher not only behind the plate but in the batter's box as well because none of his potential suitors possess the type of bat that Martin provided for the team. The Yankees will be forced to choose between veteran back-ups, Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli and long-talked about prospect, Austin Romine.
I could envision a platoon situation of sorts where Stewart may get the bulk of the starts with Cervelli slotting in every few days. The real wild-card here is Romine, he was a September call-up in 2011 but then missed the majority of 2012 after undergoing back surgery and only made 120 plate appearances in the minors. Brian Cashman has already said that Romine will likely start the season at Triple-A just to prove that he has fully recovered from his back issues but could eventually come on to take the job as the season progresses.
4) Does Mo Return to Form?
I don't need to recount how horrific it was watching the greatest closer of all-time crumpling up in a heap on the warning track in Kansas City but it did happen and it begs the question, how will a 43-year-old Mariano Rivera recover from such an injury? Personally, I have little doubt that Mo will pick up right where he left off but given his age and the injury there has to be just a little sliver of doubt that tends to creep in. That said, the injury could have been a blessing in disguise because it saved Rivera's arm some precious miles and although I am the furthest thing from a doctor or any type of medical professional, one could imagine that his arm would be pretty fresh.
It's honestly the gift that keeps on giving at this point, not only are the Yankees married to him and the worst contract of all-time but they also have to deal with the fact that he can no longer stay on the field oh and there's that whole PED thing. At this point it's anyone's guess what will happen with A-Rod, it seems unlikely that he will be much of a factor on the field this season as he recovers from yet another hip surgery but he can't seem to keep himself out of the news and is the focal point of the Anthony Bosch PED scandal.
There are a ton of moving parts and a lot of legal grey area when it comes the whole Bosch thing but if the Yankees think they will be able to void this albatross of a contract, I would keep dreaming. It's highly unprecedented to void a player's contract for PED use so they better pray he uses some better drugs so that he can get on the field and start earning some of that money.
2) Is This A Small Ball Team?
One of the Yankees biggest problems over the last several years has been their inability to manufacture a run and their reliance on the home run ball. In the off-season they lost almost 100 home runs from the 2012 team by allowing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Eric Chavez to find jobs elsewhere. If you add A-Rod into that mix, the Bombers will almost certainly have to find another way to create runs since they shed over 100 home runs from the 2012 team. Looking at the replacements, Youkilis should be good for at least 20 but Ichiro, Brett Gardner, and Chris Stewart would be lucky if they could collectively match Swisher's 2012 total of 24. Gardner and Ichiro add a dimension of speed to this team that had been lacking and they will need it to create runs as they were winning ball games last year was not sustainable. The pitching should carry this team and let's be real they'll hit their fair share of homers but look for a lot more "small ball" this season.
1) Will Age Catch Up With Them?
It's no secret, when you look at the Yankees roster they are a bit "seasoned" as the only starting position player under the age of 30 is 29-year old Brett Gardner. The average age of the 2013 projected starting lineup is 33 years old couple that with the fact that the Yankees will also be relying on a 38-year-old and a soon-to-be 41-year-old in Andy Pettitte to man down key spots in the starting rotation. It seems inevitable that father time will catch up to these Yankees because how long can Derek Jeter and company continue to drink from the fountain of youth before falling off the table. I'm of the belief that they can keep it together for at least another year or two without seeing a precipitous drop-off. Keeping these guys healthy will be the key to their longevity and although injuries that are virtually uncontrollable, it could be on Joe Girardi to make sure that certain players get their requisite days off or half-days at the DH spot.