The final seconds of the Super Bowl presented us with the unofficial handoff to baseball season, and now the Yankees are just days away from reporting to George M. Steinbrenner Field. Here is one last dip into your winter questions before we head down for some Florida sun.
How healthy is Alex Rodriguez's right hip? I know he's past his prime, but will we ever see .300-40-120 type numbers from him again?
-- Joe I., North Brunswick, N.J.
The good news is that after the season, A-Rod saw Dr. Marc Philippon -- the Vail, Colo.-based specialist who performed his surgery a couple of years ago -- and was issued a clean bill of health for the season ahead, so the Yankees expect no issues with Rodriguez being ready to begin the year.
Considering where A-Rod was after the spring of 2009, when it was thought that he'd require a second procedure to finish the job after the season, the fact that Rodriguez has instead made it two seasons without going back has been a welcome development.
Now there's no getting around that Rodriguez will turn 36 in July, he's lost mobility because of the hip issue and you won't be surprised if there are trips to the disabled list -- or at least stretches where manager Joe Girardi needs to be more careful with A-Rod so not to run him down over a 162-game schedule.
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This is a long way of answering that what we've seen from Rodriguez over the last three years or so is probably going to be closer to what's anticipated. MLB.com's fantasy predictions for 2011 project that Rodriguez is going to hit .278 with 32 home runs and 111 RBIs in 528 at-bats, and while he could very well exceed those numbers, those look like a conservative bet that the Yankees could be happy with.
While Andy Pettitte's retirement seems sincere, can you still see a long-shot scenario where it is August, the Roger Clemens trial is over and Pettitte comes back to help clinch the pennant?
-- Edward G., Commack, N.Y.
It's a fun script to come up with, and certainly there are those who believe Pettitte would still be open to the idea of pitching this year if the Yankees desperately needed him. In a previous Inbox, I said that it looked like if Pettitte was going to pitch in 2011, it'd be under similar circumstances to what you mentioned -- so I guess I need to stand by that.
But listening to Pettitte after the cameras had been shut off for the formal part of his news conference, I came away believing Pettitte at his word that he won't be swayed -- at least, not this year. He seems to understand how odd it would look for him to pitch this year after going through that grand farewell last week at the Stadium.
This quote from Pettitte in particular sticks in my mind:
"I can tell you right now that I'd be embarrassed [to pitch again], because of what I've done right now," said Pettitte. "I might be so embarrassed that I might never play again. But I don't think that's going to happen, because I've felt this way for so long deep down and also because I've got such a good peace about it. I know that I'm going to be good with it. But I can definitely tell you for sure that I'm not going to play this year, I'm sold out on that, 100 percent."
Do you think Pettitte has the stats to make the Hall of Fame, or will the HGH issue keep him out?
-- Charlie L., Long Island
Part of our coverage for the Pettitte news conference attempted to answer this question, conducting an informal survey of some of the voters who'd be attacking this issue in 2016. Yankees fans probably won't like the answers.
Most of those questioned last week said they were inclined to not vote for Pettitte, citing the HGH issue and also that Pettitte's regular-season numbers are good but not exceptional. To me, there should be some weight to his postseason numbers, as no one won more when it counted more than Pettitte.
It's worth noting that no pitcher has a higher ERA in Cooperstown than Pettitte's 3.88 -- but then again, most of those guys didn't have to pitch in the American League East during this era. Maybe Pettitte's not a first-ballot guy, but as MLB.com's Lyle Spencer said, he could hang around long enough to build some Bert Blyleven level of support.
Who will the Yankees get as their next starting pitcher? When will they get him?
-- Matt D., Swarthmore, Pa.
I wish I had an answer for you, but then again, so does general manager Brian Cashman. Speaking last week at the Pettitte event, Cashman said the Yankees are "going to wait and see what we have in camp," so expect the competition to come from the current group.
Cashman left open the idea that the Yankees might run into something that works, but clearly they don't like the menu of options that have been presented to them at this time and have decided not to force it for fear of overpaying. Cashman acknowledged the rotation is incomplete at this time and said New York is looking at this as "a more difficult, longer road" to fix it.
What kind of a chance do you think the recent veteran signings -- Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard -- have of making the Major League roster?
-- Kevin M., Albuquerque, N.M.
If I had to handicap it, Garcia seems like the strongest contender to claim a rotation spot, needing only to outpitch Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre this spring. The Yankees do like the fact that there's a track record and recent work history there, and Garcia should be motivated by coming into camp with nothing guaranteed. Colon might be able to prove he's got something left, but he could just as easily be gone by the third week of exhibition games. Chavez's left-handed bat could be a nice fit to back up at the corners if he can stay healthy through the spring, though the Athletics can tell you all about that being a challenge. Belliard figures to give the likes of Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez a nice run for their money as the utility infielder.
Why don't the Yankees put Andruw Jones as the designated hitter and get rid of Jorge Posada?
-- Charles L., Lima, Ohio
You mean, just release him outright and eat $13.1 million? I can't imagine that's the best course of action. Posada's offensive numbers may be more consistent this year now that he's not taking foul tips off his body on a daily basis, and you can still easily predict a minimum of 300 plate appearances for Jones in the role the Yankees see for him.
What are your thoughts on the Justin Maxwell trade, and what will be his role in 2011?
-- William B., Silver Spring, Md.
It can't hurt. The Yankees parted with a pitcher who was a few notches below their elite prospects in Adam Olbrychowski, and they're essentially taking a chance to see if Maxwell can knock guys like Greg Golson back down to Triple-A. Maxwell had Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow in October and he does have one Minor League option remaining, so he's no lock.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.