12:00 pm Feb. 13, 2013
The New York Yankees opened spring training this week, and there are actually some jobs up for grabs.
The Yankees let Russell Martin, their regular catcher of the past two years, sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates without making him an offer. His possible replacements are Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli, none of whom has much of a track record.
The outfield configuration remains unsettled, too, even if the players are set. Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner are expected to be the regular outfielders, but whether Gardner will play center or left, with Granderson occupying the other spot, remains unclear.
It shouldn't be that hard, probably. Granderson is no longer the outstanding defensive center fielder he was when he was completely healthy . Moreover, Granderson is a free agent after this season, and likely doesn't fit into the $189 million budget plans for 2014. Having an incumbent center fielder in Gardner, and needing to fill a spot in left field, would be far easier than needing to fill in center field.
The starting rotation is set, while there don't appear to be any spots in the bullpen up for grabs. A battle for the final outfield spot on the bench between Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, should the Yankees keep Melky Mesa, will likely end up with both of them making the team, and Mesa in Triple-A.
So the remaining pastime for the Yankees this spring, and it's already begun, is watching for injuries. This is generally the case with any team, only more so for the Yankees, an older club with a pair of high-profile recoveries they are banking on.
At shortstop, the Yankees are not just hoping that Derek Jeter can return from a broken ankle to play a physically demanding position at age 38. They have no real alternative plan if he doesn't, with Eduardo Nunez, a poor defender, the nominal backup.
And Mariano Rivera, who missed nearly a year last year after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament, has returned at age 43 to be the team's closer.
It is not typical for a team to entrust two such vital roles to older players coming off of injuries. But neither Jeter nor Rivera's aging curve has been typical, either, and both are locks to make the Hall of Fame when their careers are finished.
So really, this is the spring ahead for the Yankees: watching their two biggest stars, and making sure they have at least one more season left.