New York Yankees: 10 Burning Questions Heading into Opening Day

Bill Ford@billfordwritesCorrespondent IIIApril 2, 2012

New York Yankees: 10 Burning Questions Heading into Opening Day

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    Opening Day is almost here. When the 2011 World Series came to an end, it seemed as though the winter would take forever and that baseball was a lifetime away.

    Then the winter meetings began, livening the fans a bit with updates and news. This offseason didn't disappoint anyone with some major, blockbuster moves league-wide that injected excitement and anticipation into the fans.

    Spring training began and we received an opportunity to see aging players appear to be strong, and we watched some top prospects make names for themselves.

    This was one of the most exciting offseasons and spring training camps that I've seen in a long time.

    With Opening Day almost upon us, as excited as we are, many of us have questions about the New York Yankees. Lingering situations still exist, which pose those questions.

    As we head into Opening Day, we want answers to those questions. We want to know where Opening Day will lead the team that we faithfully support.

    Take a look at 10 of those questions that are on the minds of the fans.

10. Will Mariano Rivera Retire This Year?

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    Mariano Rivera's probable retirement announcement looms above Yankees Universe this year.

    Many have speculated, and Rivera has thrown hints out there over the last couple of months.

    His words have been non-committal, but this is the first time that he has seriously indicated that this could be the end of his legendary career.

    Most people seem to believe that Rivera will announce that he is going to retire after the 2012 season and I am inclined to agree.

    If he does, the news will leave a feeling of heaviness among the fans, but it will also generate happiness at the same time to see him go out on top.

    As difficult as it is to think about, I think that he should retire after this season. Ouch. That hurt to write.

9. How Long Can Derek Jeter Keep Going?

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    Derek Jeter is the heart and soul of the New York Yankees.

    The captain exemplifies what a Major League Baseball player should be in every sense. He is a phenomenal athlete and a true gentleman on and off the field.

    Jeter is what every major league player and every aspiring prospect should strive to become.

    He is aging and seemed to show some signs of that early last season. After returning from rehabbing a calf injury, he bounced back with a vengeance for the rest of the season, not to mention his 3,000th hit with a home run blast.

    Jeter still seems to have the strength and ability to keep playing, but for how much longer? He had a minor injury during spring training, but he appears to be fine.

    The question is: How much longer can his body sustain the physical exertion of a professional athlete and keep going?

    Thinking about the Yankees without Jeter almost seems impossible. He is the face of New York.

    As we head into Opening Day, all eyes will be on Jeter watching for any signs of slowing down or recurring injuries.

    We would all love to see him squeeze out a few more seasons, but how much more does Jeter have left in him?

8. Will Alex Rodriguez Remain Healthy This Year?

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    Alex Rodriguez is one of the best, no matter how some baseball fans may feel about him.

    He has been solid and consistent throughout his entire career, and has put up incredible numbers.

    Sometimes people forget the good when an athlete hits a few bumps and falters a bit. I think that it's unfair, but it's human nature, I guess.

    Once an athlete is at the top of his game, most fans expect him to remain there and perform at the top at all times. However, athletes are human and they do falter.

    Last season, Rodriguez was plagued with hip and knee injuries, which led to a decline in his performance and his numbers. Instead of concern, it seemed to generate anger and resentment. That's unfortunate.

    Over the winter, he took some advice and was evaluated by a physician in Germany and was given an experimental treatment in an attempt to resolve his painful injuries.

    For now, all appears to be well. He seemed to be strong and healthy throughout spring training with no complaints.

    As great as that seems, it is important to remember that Rodriguez is aging and no matter what treatments he receives, he can not beat the clock. Nature always wins.

    One of the questions that weighs on the minds of the fans is if he will be able to maintain his health throughout the entire 2012 season.

    All appears to be well as of now, but an aging body with multiple previous injuries can only take so much.

7. Is Andy Pettitte Making a Mistake?

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    Andy Pettitte's retirement was tough to swallow. He was one of the best and contributed to much of the Yankees' success during his tenure.

    When a great athlete retires, it can bring a feeling of sadness, but it's also nice to see him retire while he's on top of his game.

    Pettitte was able to retire while he was at his best.

    When he was invited to participate in this year's spring training to help out, he caught the baseball fever once again.

    Somewhat of a surprise, he announced that he signed with the Yankees to a minor league deal and would make an attempt to earn a spot on the starting rotation in the majors.

    Pettitte wants to make a comeback. Of course, that's understandable. Baseball was his life, and being out of it was probably very difficult. If you love what you do, it hurts to give it up.

    The question that comes to my mind is if he's making a huge mistake. I realize that many will disagree with me, but I think that he should have stayed with the Yankees in more of a role as a coach, mentor or consultant.

    Pettitte went out on top. He may start out strong, but he isn't a young pitcher anymore. What if he fails miserably and gets beaten up by batters? Instead of being remembered as one of the best, he'll go out looking foolish. He will be mocked as an aging player who couldn't accept that his time was over.

    I sincerely hope that I'm wrong and I hope that he is hugely successful. I just think that he should have stayed out on top where he left.

6. Will Michael Pineda Be a Bust?

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    When Brian Cashman traded Jesus Montero to get Michael Pineda, he created a whirlwind of opinions among fans and analysts.

    Some were excited and agreed with the decision, while others thought that Cashman was insane to give up his top prospect.

    Pineda's arrival generated quite a buzz and led to strong expectations. Once spring training began, fans were glued to televisions to watch the hurler in action.

    The fans reacted quickly when it appeared that Pineda's fastball had lost some velocity. Fans were quickly confused.

    After a few more outings, not much had changed. Pineda was beaten up by batters leading fans to gasp with confusion.

    Pineda was supposed to be top-notch and he was supposed to help to solidify the Yankees with an elite starting pitching rotation.

    Adding to the frustration, Pineda is now on the disabled list for at least 15 days with shoulder tendinitis.

    Some wonder if this injury was just a convenient injury knowing that he may be sent down to the minor leagues due to his lack of performance.

    Although it may be too early to tell if this is the true Pineda or if this was just some simple bad luck, we have to wonder what to expect for 2012.

    Cashman may have jumped too early when the opportunity presented itself to acquire Pineda.

5. Is the Yankees' Backstop Getting Weak?

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    Solid pitching is the main key to success, but catchers are just as important.

    Catchers call the game. They have the best view and the best angle of the entire field.

    Russell Martin has solid skills, but he won't be a Yankee for much longer, in my opinion.

    Francisco Cervelli is one of the most energetic catchers, but he has had injuries and has never ranked as one of the best in the position. That's not meant to knock him, but we can't deny the numbers.

    One of the top prospects in the Yankees' system, Austin Romine, has shown a great deal of promise and seems to be destined toward the backstop position once Martin has moved on.

    Romine is strong and powerful, but he has dealt with a recurring back injury during this offseason and spring training.

    This isn't his first injury and he is young. Back injuries are easy to re-injure, which he has already done. Catchers need to be able to take some intense hits at times.

    The Yankees have prospects in development in the lower minors, such as Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy. They both have shown signs that they have huge potential, but they are years away from MLB.

    The Yankees have focused primarily on pitching strength this year. What about catchers? Did attention toward that position get neglected? New York has pitching depth in the minors, but catching depth is too far down in the lower minors.

    Will Romine overcome his injuries and be effective?

4. Who Will Complete the Starting Rotation?

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    Many questions continue to linger regarding who will round out the starting pitching rotation.

    Joe Girardi has to make a decision soon. With Michael Pineda on the disabled list for at least 15 days, he has to think even more quickly.

    The options available are CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes and then Andy Pettitte within a month or so.

    If Pineda recovers but is sent down to the minors as some have suggested, that makes the decision a little less difficult, although temporarily.

    Sabathia and Kuroda are definite. Pettitte is likely beginning in May, which makes me nervous as I wrote before.

    Garcia performs well, but he is aging and there are rumors of him being traded.

    Nova and Hughes would round it out well. If Pineda does get sent to the minors then I see the rotation going Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova and Hughes.

    Only time will tell.

3. Will Phil Hughes Finally Bounce Back?

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    Phil Hughes has had a solid spring training and has been consistent.

    Dealing with injuries, he had a terrible 2011. All indications lead to the belief that 2012 will be his year.

    I won't go so far to say that he will have a stellar year, but I absolutely believe that this will be his bounce-back season and he will prove that he deserves the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

    Fans are nervous because of his failure in the past, but I have faith that he will have a strong and solid 2012 season.

    In his outings in spring training, Hughes' pitch location has been more on target, his velocity has increased and remains consistent.

    Coming off of a difficult 2011 season, he appears to be healthy and confident. He has demonstrated control on the mound and I believe that it will continue throughout the season.

    Hughes will bounce back this year.

2. Will Manny Banuelos Get a Chance to Shine?

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    Left-handed pitching prospect Manny Banuelos is one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ farm system.

    This was his second year in a row being invited to the Yankees' spring training camp, and he didn't fail to impress the New York organization.

    Over four seasons moving through the minor leagues, Banuelos had a win-loss record of 19-17, 353 strikeouts and a 3.02 ERA in 345.1 innings pitched.

    He handles stress and pressure as if he were a seasoned MLB veteran, and continues to progress and develop.

    Will Banuelos be called up and get a chance to prove himself in the major leagues? My belief is that he will get that call in September to demonstrate his power and control.

1. Will Joba Chamberlain Ever Stay Healthy?

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    Joba Chamberlain was on his way to a potential comeback this season after a dreadful period of time. Things appeared to be going well as he recovered well from Tommy John surgery.

    Just when things appeared to be headed in the right direction, he dislocated his ankle on a trampoline.

    He will have to wear a cast for six weeks and then a walking boot for some time after that.

    Chamberlain just can't seem to catch a break (no pun intended).

    The recovery period for Tommy John surgery is quite lengthy. Everything indicated that his rehabilitation and recovery were on target and going well.

    The timing for his ankle injury could not have been worse. Sure, he'll recover from that, too. Rehabilitation will take some time, although he seems to believe that he will return quickly. He is optimistic that he will return this season.

    I would be willing to wager that returning this season is highly unlikely.

    As a fan, it is frustrating to watch an athlete suffer from a serious injury, have it surgically repaired, get through rehabilitation successfully, appear to be able to get back into the game and then sustain another season-ending injury before the season even begins.

    What's next for Joba? Stayed tuned.