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More than a five-step winter

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[2]Brian Cashman set his priorities this winter.

1. Make as many moves involving Eli Whiteside as possible. Done.

2. Re-sign the Yankees free agent pitchers. Imagine this winter without Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera on the roster. Bringing those three back was a must, and it was done early.

3. Plug the hole at third base. It seems re-signing Russell Martin was initially next on the list, but it’s funny how Martin got away just as the Yankees were settling on surgery for Alex Rodriguez. The Rodriguez news broke at the Winter Meetings, and within two weeks, Kevin Youkilis was on board.

4. Find a new right fielder. A qualifying offer to Nick Swisher was never going to do the trick, and there were early reports of Cashman telling Ichiro Suzuki’s camp that they had to wait. Eventually, it became clear that Ichiro was going to require two years, and so that was done.

5. Gather right-handed bats. Matt Diaz on a minor league deal. Russ Canzler off waivers. Now a report that the Yankees are still in the mix for Scott Hairston. If the Yankees are offering a contract large enough that Hairston accepts a part-time role, it takes the next priority off the list.

But this was never simply a five-step winter.

Pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in five weeks, and we still don’t have answers to the following questions. In some cases, we don’t have anything close to an answer. In recent years, Cashman and his team have done a nice job finding productive, overlooked players in late January and early February, and it looks like they’re going to attempt the same this winter.

[3]Who’s the designated hitter? The fact the Yankees are waiting to fill this spot says a lot about their desire to balance that left-leaning outfield. Raul Ibanez wasn’t willing to wait around.

Who backs up the infield? The Yankees basically spent the past six months or more declaring Eduardo Nunez an unfit utility option. Can they suddenly change their opinion due to lack of options? If Canzler makes the team, he can, in theory, back up at the corners, but then who plays up the middle? What if Canzler doesn’t make the team at all? Is Jayson Nix off the 40-man but still a favorite for the 25-man?

Which veteran is coming to camp to fight for the fifth starter spot? You know it’s going to be someone. You just know it.

Which catcher is going to start on Opening Day? The question we might not answer until Joe Girardi posts his lineup on April 1.

Associated Press photos