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New York Yankees' Top Story Lines at Start of Spring Training

Phil WatsonCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2013

New York Yankees' Top Story Lines at Start of Spring Training

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    Pitchers and catchers have reported. Full-squad workouts have begun. On Saturday, the New York Yankees will open their Grapefruit League schedule when they face the Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

    The Yankees are a franchise that is never short on story lines, regardless of what point in the year it is, but there are several items that are buzzing as the Bronx Bombers embark on their 111th season in New York and their 101st as the Yankees.

    In no particular order, here are the top nine story lines involving the Yankees as the spring games get set to commence.

The $189 Million Question

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    For a year, New York Yankee fans have fretted over the directive from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner that payroll would be cut to less than the $189 million luxury-tax threshold by the time the 2014 season rolled around.

    The logic behind the move was sound: The penalties for having a payroll in excess of $189 million would get much more prohibitive when the new provisions of the latest collective bargaining agreement kick in next season.

    So after two consecutive offseasons with the Yankees mere spectators as the biggest names in free agency landed elsewhere and with players doing the previously unthinkable, such as the regular catcher for the Yankees opting to go to the Pittsburgh Pirates, for crying out loud, in order to get more money, it appears Steinbrenner is softening on his stance.

    Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com cited a source as saying, “This is the first time since George died that it appears a Steinbrenner is actually running the Yankees.”

    Matthews translated that to mean that the $189 million edict is done. The only thing about to be cut in the Bronx is checks with lots of zeroes on them.

    Matthews cites a pair of factors behind the decision to rescind “the decision.”

    First and foremost, the Yankees appear to want desperately to hold onto free-agent-to-be Robinson Cano, going so far as to break a decades-old club policy regarding the offering of contract extensions while a player, or manager, is still under contract.

    The second, more esoteric, reason cited by Matthews was that, according to “the proverbial insider with knowledge,” the fan reaction to the $189 million edict took Steinbrenner aback. More to the point, the source told Matthews that Steinbrenner was “freaked out” by the negative reaction to the talk of slashing payroll.

    Apparently, someone within the organization—perhaps the well-known finance geek Steinbrenner himself—ran the numbers are came to the same conclusion many of us on the outside had already figured out. Cutting tens of millions of dollars off the payroll could end up costing the franchise more than 10 times that much over the long haul because the brand would be less prestigious.

    In any event, it appears there is a new sheriff in town. He looks like the new boss, but appears to be willing to spend like the old one.

Will the No. 5 Starter Be David Phelps or Ivan Nova?

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    There is one spot in the starting rotation up for grabs as the New York Yankees go through their spring training regimen in Tampa, Fla.

    Former All-Star Ivan Nova, coming off a 2012 campaign that could be described as anywhere from disappointing to horrific, is in a fight with second-year right-hander David Phelps for the No. 5 starter role.

    Nova was 2-5 after the All-Star break last season with a 7.05 ERA and 1.633 WHIP and spent time on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness. For the season, he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 170.1 innings and surrendered 28 home runs.

    Phelps, meanwhile, made 11 starts and was 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Overall in 33 appearances, Phelps was 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 99.2 innings as a rookie. According to MLB.com, Phelps will get the start Saturday to open Grapefruit League play.

How’s the Knee, Mariano Rivera?

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    Closer Mariano Rivera, the all-time leader in saves, is coming back at age 43 after missing almost all of the 2012 season with a knee injury.

    So far Rivera hasn’t deviated from his normal spring training pattern and told Jack Curry of the YES Network, “I’m definitely expecting good things. That’s what I demand of myself. I’m looking for that or else I wouldn’t be here.”

    In his last full season, Rivera had 44 saves and a 1.91 ERA in 2011. He also said he would make an announcement at some point this year about his future plans, according to Anthony Riccobono of the International Business Times.

How’s the Ankle, Derek Jeter?

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    Derek Jeter is also coming back off a major injury. He went down in a heap late in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series last October with a broken ankle.

    Jeter had surgery in October and has not yet been cleared for full participation, as reported by the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger on Tuesday.

    Jeter has yet to run on flat ground, but has taken ground balls and participated in an infield-fly drill on Wednesday, according to the New York Post.  But he was instructed not to do a lot of running around during the drill.

    Jeter still insists he will be ready to play on Opening Day, when the Yankees host the Boston Red Sox on April 1.

How’s the Elbow, CC Sabathia?

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    CC Sabathia was another of the New York Yankees’ walking wounded this offseason, as he underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow following the playoffs last fall.

    He threw off a mound for the first time on Saturday, according to the New York Post, and all went well.

    “I felt nervous, it was my first time going up [on the mound],” Sabathia told the Post. “It immediately felt good.”

    Sabathia has been very durable during his career up until 2012, when he made two trips to the disabled list. Still, the 6’7”, 290-pound left-hander was 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 200 innings over 28 starts last season.

    He made three more starts in the playoffs, recording two wins—including a complete game—against the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Division Series before being rocked by the Detroit Tigers in his lone start in the American League Championship Series.

The Push to Keep Robinson Cano

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    Robinson Cano is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season, but according to Erik Boland of Newsday on Tuesday, the Yankees and Cano have been in discussions about a new deal.

    Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner told Newsday that the parties have talked about a “significant” contract to keep the All-Star second baseman in the Bronx:

    “We expressed to [Cano’s agent] Scott [Boras] how much we liked Robbie and what a great Yankee he’s been and we hope he continues his career here for a long time to come. We just indicated to him, on a very preliminary basis, that we were willing to consider a significant long-term contract, and left it at that. There’s nothing really to report since them.”

    Cano, 30, will make $15 million this season in the final year of a six-year deal he signed prior to the 2008 season. He’s been extremely durable, missing just 12 games since 2007, and hitting .308/.351/.503 with 177 home runs and 715 RBI in his eight seasons in New York. He has been consistently solid at the plate over the last four seasons, averaging 29 homers and 102 RBI a year while hitting .314/.365/.534 over that span.

    Last year, Cano clubbed a career-high 33 home runs but his 94 RBI were his lowest total since driving in 85 in 2009. However, his 149 OPS-plus was also a career best.

    Cano is a four-time All-Star who finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting a year ago.

Who Will Emerge as the Regular Catcher?

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    The Yankees have four catchers in camp and we will begin to learn on Saturday, with the opening of the exhibition season, whether it will be Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart who gains the edge heading toward Opening Day.

    Youngster Austin Romine and non-roster invitee Bobby Wilson are also in camp, but Romine is likely ticketed for Triple-A, according to Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog, and Wilson is considered a long-shot to earn a roster spot barring an injury or some sort of catastrophic failure by one of the front-runners.

Can the Yankees Replace All That Production?

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    The New York Yankees set a franchise record with 245 home runs in 2012. But the men responsible for a lot of those home runs are wearing different uniforms this spring.

    Nick Swisher’s 24 homers are now with the Cleveland IndiansRussell Martin and his 21 home runs are with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Raul Ibanez took his 19 homers to the Seattle MarinersAlex Rodriguez hit 18 home runs last season, but is on the 60-day disabled list after hip surgery and won’t be back until midseason at the earliest.

    That’s not all.

    Eric Chavez’s 16 home runs now belong to the Arizona DiamondbacksAndruw Jones and his 14 home runs crossed the Pacific to Japan. Dewayne WiseChris DickersonCasey McGehee and Steve Pearce combined for seven round-trippers in spot duty last year, but none of that quartet is in pinstripes anymore.

    For the record, that is 119 homers from last season—almost 49 percent of the club’s franchise-record total—that is not in Tampa this spring. Even if one were to include Rodriguez’s output, that’s still 101 home runs that are gone.

    In their place there is Kevin Youkilis, who belted 19 homers with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox in 2012, and Travis Hafner, who hit 12 in limited duty for the Indians last season.

    And that’s it in terms of newly acquired production.

    Ichiro Suzuki is expected to replace Swisher in right field this year after playing mostly in left field after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners last July. Brett Gardner is back from his elbow injury and will either be in left or center field. Suzuki hit five homers after the trade. Gardner has 15 career homers in 1,393 at-bats.

    So the question of where the runs will come from in 2013 seems to be a valid one.

That Whole ... PED ... Thing

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    In late January, the baseball world was rocked by a story in the Miami New Times that linked Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez and others to an anti-aging clinic in the Miami area that was allegedly distributing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.

    However, the New York Daily News reported Thursday that Rodriguez may still be at the center of another probe into PEDs in baseball.

    Sources familiar with Major League Baseball’s investigation into Anthony Bosch’s Biogenesis operating in south Florida told the Daily News that investigators are looking into testimony provided to federal authorities by Rodriguez and others during the prosecution of Dr. Anthony Galea.

    Galea pleaded guilty in December 2011 to bringing unapproved drugs, including human-growth hormone and Actovegin, into the United States from Canada and was sentenced to a year of supervised release.

    A week after the initial report by the Miami New Times, Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli confirmed that he had ties to Bosch, but said that nothing he took while recovering from a foot injury in 2011 was out of bounds. In a statement earlier this month, Cervelli asserted:

    “Following my foot injury in March 2011, I consulted with a number of experts, including Biogenesis clinic, for legal ways to aid my rehab and recovery. I purchased supplements that I am certain were not prohibited by MLB.”

    This is a story almost certain to cast a shadow over the Yankees for much, if not all, of 2013.

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