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Spending the winter sorting through the unknown

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We’ve known this for a while, but it really stood out yesterday when a group of reporters tried to ask Joe Girardi a few offseason questions: There are too many complete unknowns to have any sort of meaningful discussion about the Yankees right now. Every attempt to build expectations or talk about potential player moves is inevitably met with some sort of — so far — unanswerable question.

Here are 10 questions that we have no answer for at the moment. I’ve attempted to rank them, from 1 to 10, in order of how significantly the lack of answer affects the Yankees offseason (there are some questions that significantly impact next season, but don’t mean much this winter).

1. Will Robinson Cano be back?
The Yankees offseason really hinges on this question. Re-signing Cano impacts the short-term lineup, the long-term plans and the obvious budget concerns. If Cano re-signs, then the Yankees have their No. 3 hitter and they can try to build around him. If Cano doesn’t re-sign, then the team needs a whole new set of blueprints.

2. Is Alex Rodriguez going to be suspended?
For two obvious reasons: The impact on the lineup, and the impact on the budget. The Yankees have well over $20 million dedicated to this guy next year, and they don’t know whether they’re getting a refund or a player. And right now, there’s absolutely nothing they can do but wait for the appeal process to play out. The only good thing about the situation is that it’s one or the other: The Yankees either have their third baseman, or they have some extra money to spend on a replacement. They just need to know which it is as soon as possible.

3. How flexible is the $189-million plan?
This could be tied directly to the Rodriguez decision. If he’s suspended, getting below $189 million would be significantly easier. If he’s not, the Yankees might be forced to blow up that “goal not a mandate” in the name of building a competitive team. For now, they can address the free agent market relatively freely — even at $189 million, they have significant money to spend — but at some point, Brian Cashman might have to ask for a serious budget increase.

4. What’s Hiroki Kuroda’s plan?
If he wants to come back to the States, I have to believe the Yankees would be a serious consideration for Kuroda. He’s seemed to enjoy these past two years, he’s certainly pitched well, and the Yankees have made it clear they’d like to have him back. No Kuroda would likely force the Yankees to either search for a trade partner, or sign a different free agent starter to a longer-term contract. There are alternatives out there, just not many who will take a one-year deal and have an AL East track record.

5. When and how is the Japanese posting system being adjusted?
At this point, the entire baseball world seems to expect the Yankees to become involved in the Masahiro Tanaka bidding. It’s going to take a massive posting fee and a considerable contract, but Tanaka would provide some much-needed rotation strength and youth. Tanaka seems unlikely to be posted, though, until the posting system is adjusted. Will those changes help or hurt the Yankees chances, and how soon will we know? There’s no immediately available starter quite like Tanaka.

6. Can Derek Jeter play shortstop?
This would seem to be the sort of question that will have a huge impact on the Yankees offseason, but I’m not sure it will. The Yankees seem to have settled on the idea that Jeter will at least be an option at shortstop, and they already have Eduardo Nunez as a just-in-case backup plan. Uncertainty about Jeter might prompt the Yankees to go after some additional left-side-of-the-infield depth, but they would need that anyway given the Rodriguez situation. By the time the Yankees know anything certain about Jeter’s offseason progress, it’s likely to be too late to make a significant shortstop signing.

7. Is Dave Robertson an elite closer?
He’s been an very good setup man, but Robertson has rarely been tested in the ninth inning. Technically, the job of Mariano Rivera’s replacement is still wide open, and Robertson’s inexperience could certainly lead the Yankees to bring in a former closer to at least compete for the job. That said, given the number of relievers leaving the Yankees, someone with experience in the late innings would have been a sensible target regardless.

8. When can Michael Pineda contribute?
The good news is, he’s still not costing the Yankees much money, so he’s not blocking them from making an acquisition. If Pineda’s ready to be an impact pitcher again, that’s a huge boost for the rotation. If he’s not ready or able, that’s more opportunity for someone from the Phelps/Warren/Nuno group. Had Pineda proven himself this season — or even had a strong big league showing for a month or so — that might have impacted the offseason. Instead, he’s just another name in a fairly long line of potential Yankees starters.

9. How good is CC Sabathia?
Huge impact next season, very little impact this offseason. The Yankees are well aware of the importance of a front-end starter. That’s why they went after Sabathia in the first place (and then signed him to an extension). Thing is, whether Sabathia is able to bounce back or not, there doesn’t seem to be a can’t-miss ace available this winter (particularly one the Yankees have the trade pieces to acquire). A top starting pitcher would be an enticing possibility regardless of Sabathia’s down year.

10. Does Mark Teixeira still have his power?
Could hardly matter less this offseason. Whether he has the power or not, Teixeira is going to be counted on as the Yankees everyday first baseman. True, he’s coming back from wrist surgery — and that can be problematic — but the Yankees have committed to Teixiera. They’ll answer the question of his production during the season. Until then, I guess questions of Teixeira’s impact could make it slightly more likely the Yankees sign a guy like Mark Reynolds (a DH/3B who could play first as well), but that’s about it.

Associated Press photos