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The next 12 months

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Yesterday we looked back on 2012, month by month. Today we’ll look ahead to 2013, again going month by month.

Finish offseason shopping
A new designated hitter is a must. Another right-handed outfielder, on top of Matt Diaz, is still a priority. A backup infielder would make sense. So would additional catching depth. And adding a cheap veteran starter on a one-year deal would create some valuable depth and competition for the rotation.

Pitchers and catchers
The Yankees have done well with February free agent signings — Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez just last year — and we might see some of that again, but when I think February, I think pitchers and catchers. And this spring, pitchers and catchers are going to be worth watching from the moment camp opens. February is going to be our first look at Mariano Rivera, David Aardsma and Joba Chamberlain; three guys with a bit of lingering uncertainty who will play vital roles in determining the strength of the bullpen. The intrigue of the Yankees catchers is fairly obvious.

Jeter’s ankle
Everyone involved says Derek Jeter’s ankle will be healthy and ready for Opening Day, but health is only part of the equation. Jeter is going to have to get enough spring at-bats to feel ready for the season opener. Mariano Rivera should be throwing well before camp opens, and Alex Rodriguez won’t be nearly ready for spring training. For the Grapefruit League schedule, Jeter’s ankle is going to be the immediate health concern.

The lineup
Two things about the Opening Day lineup: What will it look like and will it be enough? The first question will be answered early. The answer will surely change at some point, but it will be interesting to see how the Yankees use their lefties and who they put in the leadoff spot. The second question will be answered over time, but April should give some idea what to expect. Does Kevin Youkilis look like he has something left? Is there a viable DH situation in place? Can Ichiro Suzuki build on last year’s late success?

Pineda’s shoulder
The Yankees believe Michael Pineda could be on a mound by May. Doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be ready for the big leagues at that point, but May should be a good time to evaluate just how much last year’s surgery has affected the hard-throwing right hander. Early results might not tell us much, but once Pineda gets on a mound and faces hitters, we should know something about his status.

Rodriguez’s hip
The surgery still hasn’t happened, which means the rehab is still a long way away, all of which means an exact return is hard to predict for Alex Rodriguez. But June seems to be a reasonable barometer. If Rodriguez comes back quickly, then June should be a good time to figure out what kind of impact he can have. If he comes back slowly, June should be a good time to evaluate how far he’s come.

Trade deadline
A significant landmark of any season, the trade deadline could be especially interesting for the Yankees next season. Will they be one piece away from another World Series run? Will they be unlikely sellers, having conceded defeat to the upstart Blue Jays? Will they have the financial flexibility to make a big move?

An honest evaluation
On the last day of August, 2012, the Yankees had a two-game lead in the American League East. That’s exactly the way they finished the regular season. By August of 2013, the Yankees should have — or at least could have — both Alex Rodriguez and Michael Pineda on the active roster. They will have figured out whether their aging veterans can still play, whether guys like Brett Gardner and Phil Hughes can be impact players, and whether they have a legitimate shot at winning the division and the championship. There’s a lot of uncertainty between now and then, but by August, there should be some answers one way or the other.

Who’s ready?
September call-ups are supposed to be impact players. What’s interesting about the Yankees upcoming September decisions will be whether they give one of the young standouts an early look and possibly put him on track to play a role in 2014. Is it possible we’ll see a guy like Tyler Austin or Slade Heathcott?

Same as it ever was
This month brings the same thing every year. It’s the month that will decide the success or failure of the season. Have to get to the playoffs to make it count. Obviously.

First things first
Next winter is going to be a fascinating offseason for the Yankees, but we all know that things tend to develop slowly. The priorities of the Yankees have to be their manager and their second baseman. Joe Girardi’s contract is up, and the front office seems to like him. Robinson Cano’s contract is up, and everyone in baseball seems to like him. Do the Yankees re-sign both? Do they re-sign either?

The budget
The free agent market will begin coming into focus in late November, and the grunt work will be begin in December. After the Yankees set their priorities and decide how to spend the bulk of their money, Brian Cashman and Co. will have to use the month of December — and on into next January — to fill remaining holes without going over $189 million in payroll. It’s a year away, but you can bet it will be a constant part of the conversation from now until then.

Associated Press photo