Four weeks ago, camp opened with the Yankees needing to answer a series of questions before Opening Day in Boston. With three weeks left on the spring training schedule, the Yankees are getting closer to some of those answers.
1. Who is the No. 5 starter? Of the five candidates, Alfredo Aceves has been the best and Joba Chamberlain has been the worst, but it’s hard to know how much any of that matters. General thinking seems to be that Phil Hughes is the favorite for the job, and he’s probably pitched well enough to hold onto that label.
2. Where does the rotation’s odd man out open the season? When spring training opened, this seemed to be question strictly about Hughes and Chamberlain. Was it possible one of them could open in Triple-A rather than the bullpen? Now that long reliever Chan-Ho Park is in the mix, though, the Yankees might need to find some alternative destinations for some of their other spot-starter/long-relief type pitchers. We’re still a pretty long way from those decisions, though.
3. Is Brett Gardner an everyday outfielder? Gardner is hitting just .158 this spring, but thats better than Marcus Thames, Randy Winn or Jamie Hoffmann. The numbers that might matter most for Gardner at the plate are 2 and 4: Two strikeouts and four walks. He and Nick Johnson are tied for the team lead in walks.
4. Who is the starting center fielder? Still very much up in the air, but it is interesting that Gardner has started in left field three times while Curtis Granderson has started there only once while playing center field six times.
5. Who bats second? This seems to be an answered question: Nick Johnson.
6. Is it worth keeping a Rule 5 pick on the roster? Jamie Hoffmann isn’t exactly off to a blazing start this spring, but neither is Marcus Thames, his primary competition for an outfield job off the bench. David Winfree, Colin Curtis and Greg Golson are each playing pretty well, but the Yankees can send those three to Triple-A. If they don’t keep one of Hoffmann and Thames, the Yankees will lose both of them.
7. Does the team need a second lefty? Need one? Probably not. Want one? Maybe. Every lefty has been reassigned except Damaso Marte, Boone Logan and Royce Ring. Both Logan and Ring have looked awfully good this spring. They’re making a good case for themselves.
8. If not a second lefty, who rounds out the bullpen? Some of the dark horse bullpen candidates (Ivan Nova, Kevin Whelan, Grant Duff) have already been reassigned, another (Edwar Ramirez) has been traded and another (Jonathan Albaladejo) has been awful. The Park signing made it significantly harder for someone to sneak into the bullpen, but Mark Melancon has been outstanding this spring. Jason Hirsh might also have put his name on that list of pitchers to keep an eye on.
9. Who is the utility infielder? Ramiro Pena still seems like the favorite — that glove is really, really impressive — but Kevin Russo has really played well. He has more walks than strikeouts, he’s made some nice plays at second base and he seems good for a hit a game, even with limited at-bats.
10. Have any bullpen roles shifted? Just as a hypothetical… What if Chamberlain struggles like this all spring? Would you put Hughes in the rotation and Dave Robertson in the eighth inning? Basically, we won’t know whether bullpen roles have shifted until the team breaks camp. It’s way too early to say one way or another.