Alex Belth said it perfectly. Spring seems eons away here in New York. Especially since we haven’t seen grass here in two weeks — longer if you live in Pennsylvania and further south in the mid-Atlantic region.
But pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training brings vitality to the discussions had in the local media marketplace and here in the blogosphere over the past three months. The Yankees have an unofficial count — if you pay attention to talk radio and are on top of the beat — of three questions:
1) Who will be the fifth starter?
2) Which young gun will be in the bullpen, Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes?
3) What will the batting order look like?
Taking these questions individually, the answer to the first questions will likely answer the second. Sunday afternoon, Sweeny Murti and Ed Coleman had Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland on WFAN and asked him point blank about taking the reins off of Joba, and whether that would give him an edge heading into spring workouts. Eiland said Chamberlain and Hughes are on equal footing in terms of the competition for the fifth starter, along with Chad Gaudin, Sergio Meat-Tray, and Alfredo Aceves.
The most sensible option outside of Chamberlain and Hughes, it seems, based on the numbers, is Gaudin. He didn’t post Aaron Small 2005 numbers by any means, but as Joba insurance, he was serviceable, allowing less than a hit per inning, 7.3 K/9, and a 125 ERA+. Not great, but not bad. Just what you expect from a fifth starter. But when you think of the dropoff from Javier Vazquez to Chad Gaudin, yikes.
Eiland said on Sunday in that WFAN interview that Hughes would be on an innings limit this year, but not with the same level of stringency as Joba Version 2K9. If that’s the case — just speculating here — the ideal situation is to have Joba in the fifth slot and Hughes in the bullpen. This wouldn’t be as difficult a decision if both twentysomethings hadn’t done so much to inspire confidence that either is better suited to be the last piece in the bridge to Mariano Rivera, or even Mo’s heir apparent.
Re: the batting order, there’s a consensus among the pundits on the following spots:
The issue becomes who bats second: Curtis Granderson or Nick Johnson? And really, it’s a toss-up. Based on Johnson’s on-base percentage (.402 career OBP to Granderson’s .344 career OBP, Johnson has the edge. But despite Granderson’s propensity to strike out, his speed may allow him to see ample time in the two-hole. Granderson has grounded into just 18 double plays in his career, while Johnson grounded into 15 last season alone. Nick Swisher could even slide in, given the number of pitches he sees per at-bat. Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada could flip-flop at 5 and 6.
None of this is news. Given the way the Yankees entered camp last year, when we were discussing the merits of Selena Roberts’ book, Alex Rodriguez’s sincerity, whether CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett had what it takes to thrive in New York, and overall, what it would take for the Yankees to make the playoffs, let alone win a World Series, maybe that’s a good thing. The only off-field issues left to talk about are the contracts of Girardi, Rivera, and Jeter, and those likely won’t be negotiated until after the season. Rivera may retire. But we have eight months to go before that speculation becomes more rampant.
For now, as Girardi said in his 30-minute powwow Wednesday, “It’s nice to be talking about baseball.”
And while we look out the window and see a wall of white with no threat of a thaw, it certainly is.