Now that we are only a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, it seems appropriate to take a look at what housekeeping issues the New York Yankees still need to address.
In spite of an active last two months of 2013, GM Brian Cashman has some open items to take care of before the club can call itself ready for the 2014 campaign.
We sit exactly one month until Valentine's Day, when the Yankees' pitchers and catchers begin their activities at the team's Tampa facilities, yet the starting rotation still has two open spots.
CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova are the returning hurlers. It is also assumed that Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno will compete for one of the open slots (most likely the fifth starter role).
But who is the final piece to the starting pitching puzzle?
It is reported that the Yankees are one of the three front-runners to land Japanese "ace" Masahiro Tanaka. Should they manage to sway the right-handed pitcher to sign with them, the dust settles on the rotation. A starting four of Tanaka, Sabathia, Kuroda and Nova would match up with the best in baseball.
Tanaka has just a couple of weeks to make a decision, so stay tuned.
What if Tanaka doesn't choose the Yankees?
Well, then one of two things will happen.
Either the Yankees will scramble to immediately sign one of the remaining free agents on the market or decide to roll with two of the aforementioned, mostly unproven in-house pitchers.
Should they prefer to use resources already under their control, then the club would be placing the responsibility of two starter roles on the shoulders of pitchers with limited experience.
Of the four previously mentioned, Pineda has the most starts under his belt (28). However, he is coming off rehab from surgery for an anterior labral tear in April of 2012. He has basically been out of commission for over a year.
There are still some options on the free-agent market (besides Tanaka) worth exploring. Among them are Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jair Jurrjens and Paul Maholm. All have their issues, but each could be productive in the third through fifth spots of the rotation.
The route the Yankees take hangs on Tanaka's decision. The next two weeks will go a long way in firming up who the Yankees take with them to the Bronx.
Gone is Robinson Cano, finding greener pastures in Seattle.
Both, when healthy, are adequate replacements for second and third base (Johnson can play both), but both have issues that require strong depth behind them.
Johnson is a left-handed hitter (good for Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field) with decent power. He's hit 16 home runs in each of the last two seasons and has the versatility to play second, third and first base. He has 132 games of experience in the outfield as well. Unfortunately, Johnson is also a free-swinger who has struck out 258 times in the last two years. His average has suffered, hitting just .230 since 2012.
Roberts was once an All-Star, considered among the game's very best players. Since 2010, he hasn't played in more than 77 games in any one season (2013). The days of hitting .290 and leading the league in doubles (he did that twice) are well behind him, and over the past three seasons, he has hit just .217.
Basically, the Yankees are hoping that a healthy Roberts might provide some semblance to the Roberts of old. It's a risk, and his incentive-laden contract reflects that.
Derek Jeter, the venerable captain of the Yankees, returns in 2014 after missing all but 17 games in 2013 after suffering a traumatic ankle injury in the 2012 ALCS. How his 39-year-old body holds up to the rigors of a full season is a concern for the team. As such, the club re-signed 31-year-old Brendan Ryan.
Most recent rumors have the Yankees exploring the possibility of trading for San Diego Padres infielder Logan Forsythe. Already, the teams had made a deal that brought infielder Dean Anna to New York. Anna will be one of the players competing for spots on the big league roster this spring. It is a further effort to shore up their thin infield depth, and it shows that Cashman recognizes the priority to have reliable backups in place.
Name David Robertson Closer
Finally, before opening the spring training season, the Yankees need to once and for all name David Robertson their undisputed closer for 2014.
Mariano Rivera has retired, and in spite of everyone else (including Rivera) bestowing the title of "successor to the greatest reliever in history" upon Robertson, GM Cashman has tiptoed around the subject. He has gone so far as to say he wasn't sure that "D-Rob" was ready for the role.
The 28-year-old Robertson has enjoyed success as the setup man to Rivera. Over the past three seasons, the right-hander has carried a 1.93 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. In that time, he holds a 258-76 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
No one is better suited or better understands what it takes to follow in the footsteps of the best relief pitcher in history than David Robertson.
Given all the other question marks the team still carries with it as it heads towards spring training, wouldn't it make sense to give Robertson the vote of confidence he needs before the team opens camp?
Once the Baltimore Orioles' agreement with relief pitcher Grant Balfour fell through following a health examination, the Yankees reportedly showed interest in acquiring the 36-year-old Athletics closer.
What would Balfour give the Yankees that Robertson doesn't?
Other than more experience in the ninth inning, he adds nothing really. Robertson is younger and apparently healthier, not to mention that Robertson has played his entire career under the microscope that is New York.
The Yankees need to remove any doubt about who will take the mound in the ninth inning and name Robertson their closer before opening the gates at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.