Yankees head to camp with plethora of starters

Yankees head to camp with plethora of starters

NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi may boast an industrial engineering degree from Northwestern University, but basic division is all the Yankees' manager really needs to see that his starting rotation presents an unsolved equation heading into Spring Training.

Seven can't go into five, as Girardi certainly learned in an elementary school classroom decades back, but the Yanks do not necessarily see a wealth of starting pitching as a problem. Instead, it's a luxury they're happy to have heading into camp.

"I think we've improved our rotation," Girardi said. "We had a really good year last year and got a lot from our pitching staff. I think we've improved that."

The Yankees pulled the trigger on a trade in January to import 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda from the Mariners, giving up power-hitting catcher Jesus Montero in a four-player deal. New York continued to beef up its rotation by signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal.

With CC Sabathia inking a contract extension on Halloween, guaranteeing himself $122 million over the next five years and creating the likelihood that he will retire in pinstripes, the Yankees' perennial thirst for starters seems to be quenched for now.

Right-hander Ivan Nova will be in the starting five after a breakout 16-win campaign last year, and while Freddy Garcia also agreed to return for a one-year, $4 million contract, he isn't guaranteed a rotation spot with Pineda and Kuroda on board.

Though a trade could still change the landscape between now and Opening Day, Girardi's team is primed to have A.J. Burnett, Garcia and Phil Hughes competing for the final spot in the rotation.

"If we were going to leave today, we'd have to make some tough decisions by April," Girardi said. "It's something that we're going to take time to evaluate. I'm in no hurry. I can tell you that CC is in our rotation and that he's going to start the first game of the year."

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 19

Full squad reports

Feb. 25

First Spring Training game

Home vs. University of South Florida, March 2, 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Away at Rays, April 6, 3:10 p.m.

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who deserves the final rotation spot? And who'll get it?
The soft-tossing Garcia gave the Yanks something of a different look last year, which Girardi liked, but Kuroda may be capable of fitting that bill as well. Hughes needs to rebound from a disappointing, injury-marred season and approach his form from 2010, when he was an 18-game winner. The organization knows he can succeed out of the bullpen, but it would prefer to see him as a starter. Hughes may be just 25, but he recognizes that patience seems to be running out.

Burnett, who has two years and $33 million remaining on his contract, will be in the mix if he's not dealt.

2. What does the heart of the order look like?
Spring Training promises to be a time for experimentation for Girardi and his coaches. The Yankees tried Robinson Cano as the No. 3 hitter late in September and for the American League Division Series against Detroit, and if that slot is supposed to be reserved for the best hitter on the team, there's no reason not to have Cano there.

Girardi likes Cano's ability to mash both lefties and righties, but Girardi still might have switch-hitting Mark Teixeira bat third against lefties so Cano doesn't hit back-to-back with lefty Curtis Granderson. How the heart of the lineup stacks up will hinge a great deal on the health of Alex Rodriguez, who endured his most frustrating pro season in 2011.

3. How will the Yankees be able to handle getting a year older?
There's no getting around it -- as Jorge Posada's retirement reminds us, the Yanks are built largely as a veteran team, and many players need to continue beating the clock. In fact, the later it gets into these star-studded careers, rest and injuries will continue to become a factor.

Rodriguez had experimental treatments performed in Germany on his right knee and left shoulder, trying to avoid a reprise of a 2011 season in which he was limited to 99 games. Derek Jeter was a different player after coming back from the disabled list in June. He will continue to be the Yankees' leadoff hitter, but those same naysayers from early in the season will be back in force at the slightest signs of weakness.

Both Jeter and Rodriguez should be able to score breaks in the designated-hitter spot, along with other players like Teixeira and Cano. And Mariano Rivera, ageless as he may appear at age 42, seems to already be hinting that this year could be his final season closing out games. That's a thought that the Bombers really don't even want to consider right now.

2011 record

97-65, first place in the AL East

Projected batting order

1. SS Derek Jeter:
  .297 BA, .355 OBP, .388 SLG, 6 HR, 61 RBIs in 2011
2. CF Curtis Granderson:
  .262 BA, .364 OBP, .552 SLG, 41 HR, 119 RBIs in 2011
3. 2B Robinson Cano:
  .302 BA, .349 OBP, .533 SLG, 28 HR, 118 RBIs in 2011
4. 3B Alex Rodriguez:
  .276 BA, .362 OBP, .461 SLG, 16 HR, 62 RBIs in 2011
5. 1B Mark Teixeira:
  .248 BA, .341 OBP, .494 SLG, 39 HR, 111 RBIs in 2011
6. RF Nick Swisher:
  .260 BA, .374 OBP, .449 SLG, 23 HR, 85 RBIs in 2011
7. DH Andruw Jones:
  .247 BA, .356 OBP, .495 SLG, 13 HR, 33 RBIs in 2011
8. C Russell Martin:
  .237 BA, .324 OBP, .408 SLG, 18 HR, 65 RBIs in 2011
9. LF Brett Gardner:
  .259 BA, .345 OBP, .369 SLG, 7 HR, 36 RBIs in 2011

Projected rotation

1. CC Sabathia, 19-8, 3.00 ERA in 2011
2. Ivan Nova, 16-4, 3.70 ERA in 2011
3. Hiroki Kuroda, 13-16, 3.07 ERA in 2011
4. Michael Pineda, 9-10, 3.74 ERA in 2011
5a. Freddy Garcia, 12-8, 3.62 ERA in 2011
5b. Phil Hughes, 5-5, 5.79 ERA in 2011
5c. A.J. Burnett, 11-11, 5.15 ERA in 2011

Projected bullpen

Closer: Mariano Rivera, 44/49 saves, 1.91 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: David Robertson, 1.08 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Rafael Soriano, 4.12 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Boone Logan, 3.46 ERA in 2011

The new guys

LHP Cesar Cabral: Picked up by the Royals from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 Draft and then sent to the Yankees for cash, the 23-year-old will have a chance to stick as a second bullpen lefty behind Logan this spring. Cabral had a 2.95 ERA in 36 appearances at Class A Salem and Double-A Portland last year.

RHP Kuroda: It seems like the Yankees have been after Kuroda for years, including last year at the Trade Deadline. Kuroda will probably see his ERA spike coming to the AL East from the National League West, but New York is relying on his veteran poise to help out. He'll again work with Martin, who was his catcher with the Dodgers.

RHP Brad Meyers: The Yankees will give a look to Meyers, a Rule 5 Draft selection from the Nationals, as a long man in Spring Training. Cashman said at the time that he drafted Meyers in part because he had no intention of using Hector Noesi in that role again. Meyers was 6-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 17 games at Triple-A Syracuse last year.

RHP Pineda: The Yankees faced Pineda once last season, in May at Safeco Field, and Teixeira commented that Pineda and Felix Hernandez made up "the best one-two punch in baseball." Eventually, New York would like to see Pineda that high in its rotation, but he's still an unfinished product. Still, a 6-foot-7 hurler throwing in the high 90s with a good slider and developing changeup should be able to get away with some early mistakes.

Prospects to watch

LHP Manny Banuelos: The Yankees see bright days ahead for Banuelos, whose poise and confidence make it easy to forget he'll be just 21 by Opening Day. Banuelos held his own at Double-A Trenton and briefly at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, and while New York isn't in a position to rush its young pitchers, he could see some time at the big league level this year.

RHP Dellin Betances: Born in Washington Heights, raised on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn before donning pinstripes in the Bronx, Betances got his first taste of big league duty last September. He will likely start the season at Triple-A. He had a 3.42 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A Trenton last season and made four more outings at Triple-A, and the Yankees will be looking for improvements in his control and mechanics.

C Gary Sanchez: The Yankees' catching depth took a hit with January's trade of Montero, but the 19-year-old Sanchez will continue to garner attention. After signing for $3 million at age 16, Sanchez hit 17 homers in 301 at-bats for Class A Charleston last year and projects to hit for power at higher levels as well.

OF Mason Williams: The Yankees seem set with Granderson in center field, but already some are proclaiming Williams as an heir apparent. Williams batted .349 in 269 games at Class A Staten Island, earning league player of the year honors, and he has observers excited about his athleticism.

On the rebound

RHP Joba Chamberlain: Chamberlain is said to be on track in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, performed in June. He'll be in camp with the Yankees this spring and could be back with the big league club by the All-Star break, helping to strengthen what already figures as a formidable bullpen.

RHP Hughes: After having his season ruined by back and shoulder injuries, Hughes committed himself to working out hard near his California home and is among the earliest-arriving Yankees at camp. He could help the club either out of the rotation or the bullpen.

3B Rodriguez: Have the Yankees seen the last of the 2007 MVP A-Rod, the one that prompted Hank Steinbrenner to dig deep for an incentive-rich 10-year contract? It's possible, but when he's healthy, Rodriguez can still stand among the game's elite. The Bombers will need to closely monitor Rodriguez's health and keep him on the field after he seemed to go through a snake-bitten season last year.

1B Teixeira: It's not often that a player with 39 homers and 111 RBIs appears on a list of comeback candidates, but Teixeira was extremely disappointed by his .224 batting average against righties in 2011. Teixeira is considering bunting now and then to beat defensive shifts, but he also needs to drive the ball better to center field and left-center.

Long gone

RHP Bartolo Colon: The biggest surprise of the Yankees' 2011 season, Colon signed with the Athletics in January. New York already has enough starting pitching and wasn't willing to gamble that Colon -- who faded late in the year -- would repeat his unlikely success.

OF Greg Golson: Released in December, Golson latched on with the Royals days later on a Minor League contract. His Sept. 14, 2010, throw to third base to get Carl Crawford at Tropicana Field will be his Yankees legacy.

RHP Sergio Mitre: Mitre never seemed quite right after being reacquired by the Yankees from the Brewers in late June, and his 11.81 ERA in four appearances was proof. Diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his pitching shoulder, Mitre was granted free agency in October and remains unsigned.

C/DH Montero: Dealt to the Mariners in January, Montero went from the Yankees' likely starting DH and possible catcher of the future to an ex-Yankee in the flash of an eye. He hit .328 in 61 September at-bats with New York.

RHP Noesi: The Yankees would have had Noesi starting, either in the big leagues or at Triple-A, if not for the January deal with the Mariners. Cashman spent a while touting Noesi's radar gun readings from winter ball, which may have helped to boost his trade value.

C/DH Posada: The fiery enforcer of the Core Four called it a career in January, retiring after 17 Major League seasons and five World Series rings. Posada ended as a .273 lifetime hitter with 275 home runs, and he can now wait to see if his next stop will be enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.