I already wrote about some of the Beltran-specific stuff that came out of today’s introductory press conference, but inevitably, the conversation quickly turned to, “What’s next?”
While the Yankees’ lineup seems to be coming together nicely, there are still legitimate questions about the pitching staff. General manger Brian Cashman has expressed his desire to add a quality starter, but the status of the Yankees’ presumed top target – Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka of the Rakuten Golden Eagles – is still very much up in the air.
“It’s not holding up anything,” Cashman said regarding the uncertainty of whether or not Tanaka will be posted. “We’re focusing on what’s available in the marketplace – not what might become available one day, or might not. … We’re also recognizing and restating that we might not get everything answered with the exclamation point or comfort level that we would prefer. There might be some things that are delayed.”
Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and team president Randy Levine each refused comment specifically on Tanaka — Girardi said, “I’m sure you’ll hear it before I do” — but each hinted that there may be another splash or two coming before the offseason has concluded.
You gotta love the hot stove.
“I think there’s questions that have to be answered,” Girardi said. “I know we’re trying to answer those questions – whether it’s going to come from outside or within. There’s nothing set in stone. I think we were probably a little more sure of who our five starters were going to be last year than we are this year, but there’s still a lot of time left in the offseason.”
• If Tanaka is never posted, it doesn’t sound like the Yankees are too thrilled with any of the other starting pitchers on the market. Cashman acknowledged that they might have to rely on non-roster invitees and in-house candidates, and he was asked if he’s comfortable with the pitching staff that they have as of right now. “I would have to be,” he said. “We certainly right now – in no order – have CC, Kuroda, Nova and we’re hoping that Pineda can compete for a spot in the spring, and earn a spot. He has options if he doesn’t, but obviously health is a big part. He’s coming off of a shoulder issue that we all hope is behind him, but I can’t guarantee it is. We’ve got the Warrens and the Phelps of the world that are competing here, you’ve got the Huffs. You’ve got Manny Banuelos coming back from Tommy John. You’ve got some young kids like (Shane) Greene and (Jose) Ramirez that want to make their cases of where they belong, so I just don’t know. I just have to wait and see how it all shakes out. It’s somewhere where we’d like to improve if we can and get more certainty, but we might have enough already. But that’s not the approach we’re taking. Or, it might be the approach that we have to take given the options in front of us. We’ll have to wait and see.”
• CC, Kuroda and Nova are givens, but all indications are that the Yankees are expecting — or, at least hoping — that Pineda is in this season’s rotation. He’s proven that he can be very effective at the big league level, and probably has more upside than any of the other fringe rotation candidates. The Yankees would love to see Pineda become what they envisioned when they traded Jesus Montero for him. “I have not talked to him since he left, but he knows that there’s an expectation there that you’ve got to come and fight for a spot,” Girardi said. “We expect him to be part of the equation, but you have to come fight for it.”
• Adding a reliable starting pitcher would alleviate some of the bullpen concerns, but Girardi also hinted that there may be outside help on the way for the pen. “I think there’s some things in the works there, as well, that we’re trying to do,” he said. “As I said, usually we don’t have this much done this early. I think since we’re meeting, (we get asked) the questions, but I still think there are some things that are out there.”
• One of the Yankees’ less celebrated signings this offseason has been Kelly Johnson, who figures to be a key component of the Cano-less infield. Girardi was asked if he sees him as more of a second or third baseman. “I’m comfortable playing him at either position,” he said. “I saw him moving around at Tampa last year and thought that he did a pretty good job, so I’m comfortable moving him anywhere.”
• Of course, where Johnson plays could largely depend on the status of Alex Rodriguez. “I’m not sure yet,” Girardi said of what may come from A-Rod’s looming suspension. “I’m not completely in charge of that right now. That’s something that it sounds like we’re going to know in January, and that could change my whole thought process in terms of our lineup.”
• The only player from last year’s Opening Day lineup who seems likely to be apart of the 2014 everyday lineup is Brett Gardner. Girardi was asked if it will be strange to have so many new players. “Someone asked me the question today, ‘Have you ever managed a Yankee team that’s had so much change?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, last year during the season.’ ” he said. “It is different. There’s a lot of new faces and we’ll have to bring them together as a team, but I don’t think that will take long.”
• Final word goes to Cashman: “We have some more stuff to do. I don’t know if this is the right analogy, but we have some torpedoes locked and loaded; we just have to be finished off. We’re not in the position to talk about them yet, but there’s some other things that are already down the pipeline that have been discussed in the public arena, but we’re not in the position to talk about them yet. We’ve got more work to do, or things to finish off, that have already been rumored. Listen, we have a lot of holes. We’ve been addressing them slowly – from my perspective – and there’s still some questions that need to be answered.”
Post written by Vincent Z. Mercogliano/Associated Press photos