February 17, 2010

Answering 11 spring training questions

The offseason is officially over. It’s time for players to start getting back in shape for a 162-game, six-month season. But first, some questions need to be answered.

The LoHud Yankees Blog’s Chad Jennings thought up 10 questions the Yankees will face this spring training yesterday. Jennings gave his answers, so I will give mine (plus a bonus).

1. Who is the No. 5 starter? I say it’s Phil Hughes’ turn. Everyone saw Joba Chamberlain struggle to find the zone for the majority of last year. I’d definitely want to give him another year to see what he’s got as a starter, but not with a very promising Hughes breathing down his gnat-covered neck.

2. Where does the rotation’s odd man out open the season? Brian Cashman stands that Chamberlain or Hughes could start the year in Triple-A, but I doubt it. Even if I’m wrong about the first question, I say either must become the eighth inning guy. Without them, you’re looking at David Robertson or Alfredo Aceves in that spot. I’d rather pick between two guys that have career sub-two ERAs out of the pen.

3. Is Brett Gardner an everyday outfielder? Why not give him a chance? He immediately becomes an impact player if he can boost his batting average and on-base percentage up 20 points. I’m not sure if fans realize how much to value his speed. But they should, since the only team that has beaten the Yanks consistently in the last decade is the Angels. And arguably their top strategy is to steal bases.

4. Who is the starting center fielder? Acquiring Randy Winn changed my opinion on this matter a tad. He can play all outfield spots, and it’s definitely a plausible idea that he’ll take over for Gardner at some point this season. I think the Gardner and/or Winn in center is the better option over Granderson. I’m not really too concerned with where they all end up out there, but, whatever they decide, I don’t want to see Granderson going back and forth. He’s an everyday player. Keep him in one position.

5. Who bats second? I’ll take Nick Johnsons’s high OBP over Granderson’s speed any day. The No. 2 hitter is a table-setter. I see Granderson as a producer, which leads me to a bonus question.

*BONUS! Who bats fifth? Back in January, I argued Robinson Cano deserves the spot. Fans tended to agree with me in the poll, so I’m going to stick with it! Granderson and Jorge Posada will also contend for the spot, but Granderson hasn’t proven anything in New York yet. Cano has. Posada has too, but he’s aging and Cano is blossoming.

6. Is it worth keeping a Rule 5 pick on the roster? Jamie Hoffmann, in my mind, doesn’t compete with Marcus Thames or Winn. Let him go.

7. Does the team need a second lefty? Other than Damaso Marte, it’s slim pickings for bullpen lefties. I believe Boone Logan has the best shot to be a second lefty, if any at all. I want to see what this guy can do in spring training before I answer this question.

8. If not a second lefty, who rounds out the bullpen? It’s between Sergio Mitre and Mark Melancon. I wish Cashman had traded Mitre for a prospect to make this decision easier, but I’m going to go with the young gun anyway. Melancon has high potential as a reliever, and Mitre is a converted starter.

9. Who is the utility infielder? Jennings says Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Russo and Reegie Corona are fighting for the job. I’ll be watching Nunez, Russo and Corona closely in March on TV and MLB.com’s gameday before I vote Pena off the island.

10. Have any bullpen roles shifted? I don’t think so. I’ll do a quick run through just to clarify my opinion.

Mariano Rivera: Closer (I had to say it, don’t hate!)
Hughes/Chamberlain: Setup man
Marte: Seventh inning or lefty specialist
Robertson: Seventh inning
Aceves: Long reliever
Gaudin: Mop up
Melancon: Middle relief in blowouts

I couldn’t think of any other questions this team faces going into spring training, but if you have one, don’t be afraid to ask me!

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