I sent off some questions to Steven Goldman, who runs Pinstriped Bible, SB Nation's great Yankee blog, and he was nice enough to send back some answers.
1. Last year the infield was likely the strongest part of the Yankees, this year the only sure thing is Robinson Cano. Who is playing the other infield spots to start the season?
That's a heck of a question. Right now it looks like Kevin Youkilis at third, Derek Jeter at short, and Juan Rivera at first, but some days it could be Jeter at DH and Eduardo Nunez at short (particularly against left-handed pitchers), which would be a defacto platoon of Nunez and Travis Hafner. Or it could be that Youkilis crosses over to first base at times and Cuban veteran Ronnier Mustelier could play some third base. Or perhaps Dan Johnson, who has not hit this spring or in his major league career, but has a great record at Triple-A, might make the team. We probably won't know until the last week of spring training. Whatever it is, it won't be ideal.
2. I'd imagine a metal plate in his foot won't improve Jeter's range, how much shortstop did you think he'll play this year?
There haven't been very many shortstops to play a full season at Jeter's age, mostly because they lacked the glove to play at that age and they couldn't make up for that by hitting as well as he did last season. It was all still a net positive for the Yankees last year, and it will be fascinating to see if they win the bet again as he turns 39. As I said before, I think he'll be out there about three-quarters of the time, with Nunez being used to give him DH days.
3. With the injury to Granderson (sorry about that), who is in the outfield? What do you expect to see from Ichiro?
It seems as if it will be Ichiro shifting over to left now that Brennan Boesch has been acquired, Boesch not being much of a glove man and apparently being more comfortable in right. Brett Gardner will play center. Boesch will platoon with Ben Francisco or Melky Mesa or Lex Luthor or somebody like that. As a platoon guy, Francisco has had very good years and very poor years, and whereas Mesa might struggle to hit .240 as a regular, he's more defensively versatile and is at least an unknown quantity (as opposed to as blandly nondescript as Francisco seems to be most of the time) so I'm rooting for him to get the spot.
Ichiro looked like a new man with the Yankees, or maybe just the old Ichiro, as opposed to the guy who played his last couple of years in Seattle. Normally, you might be tempted to dismiss that as a small-sample fluke, or a gift of the BABIP Fairy, but he really seemed to me to be hitting the ball with more authority. I hope that carries over, because if he hits .280/.310/.350 the Yankees are in even bigger trouble than they seem right now.
4. When will we get to boo Alex Rodriguez next?
It's anybody's guess, but the best bet seems to be somewhere in the second half. I don't think the correct answer is "never" despite some speculation that he'll just never be back and will vanish into his mansion, Charles Foster Rodriguez-style.
5. Who is catching? What do you expect from the position?
Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. I don't expect a great deal of production. Stewart can hit lefties a tiny bit and Cervelli sometimes gets into streaks where he hits .300 in by floating the ball over the infield, so if everything breaks right maybe the Yankees will get passable defense and .275 in singles out of the pair, but it doesn't seem too likely.
6. The top of the starting rotation looks good with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. What do you expect from rest of the rotation? What's the over/under on starts from Andy Pettitte?
A lot depends on something else we don't know, which is if Phil Hughes will be ready to start the season. Assuming he is, the rotation should be solid. Sabathia and Kuroda are unflappable pros. Hughes is really miscast as a Yankee--he's a fly-ball pitcher in a park that gives up home runs -- if he could somehow find his way to Oakland he'd win 20 games. Ivan Nova, who seems like the frontrunner for the fifth spot, was a curious case last year. He succeeded in his rookie year despite a low strikeout rate. Last year he got the strikeout rate up, but his pitches were up too, and he was too often punished for it. This spring, the team has shortened his mechanics, and it's tempting to think if you combine the improved stuff with an improved approach he could take a big step forward, but that hasn't been the case so far this spring.
I think you have to be happy if Andy Pettitte can give you 20 starts. Last year's injury was a fluke, but he's going on 41, he hasn't played a full season since 2009, and even if his arm has held up, maybe the rest of him is not so limber. Fortunately, David Phelps seems like a pretty serviceable swing-man.
7. Who sets up for Rivera? Who is in line to be the closer next year?
David Robertson, owner of that nifty 12.0 career strikeouts per nine. He was put in the position to close for about four seconds after Rivera got hurt last year, but his first chance went awry and he got hurt as well, opening the door for Rafael Soriano. His command wanders sometimes, but he's very stingy with the long-ball and batters obviously have a tough time making contact. He should be first in line next season.
8. If the over/under on Yankee wins is 86.5, which way would you bet?
I think I would take that number almost exactly. This is something that our colleague, Cliff Corcoran, said recently, that it's possible to look at the AL East and imagine every team having 85 wins. That won't happen of course, but I think you can make an argument for almost every team having that kind of upside -- but maybe not more than that. I think the Yankees will have a tough time early unless the pitching staff is just perfect, and then as they get Granderson and Teixeira back (assuming nothing goes wrong with Teixeira's recovery, which it might), they might pick up a little bit. The big question will be if Brian Cashman will be allowed to add anything at the deadline -- he's usually loathe to spend prospects in those kinds of trades, but if the division is close, this might be the year the Yankees need that kind of help. If you think back a way, the Yankees were in a similar position back in 2000. Now that team just blends into what was a mini-dynasty, but the reason that team got to win a championship is that Cashman traded for David Justice and Glenallen Hill to upgrade the offense. The difference now is that the Yankees are being so uncharacteristically tightfisted, and maybe they won't want to take on even 81 games of salary in July -- but we're getting ahead of things. Right now, they just have to get out of April. Make that March.
Thanks for this Steve.