Bryan Hoch: Yes, it seems pretty set to me behind Sabathia, barring injuries. You're going to have Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda in some order, and then Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes will fight for the last spot. That seems a little early to call, but I think the Yankees view Garcia as a known quantity. The question is, would Hughes provide anything better? If he's back to 2010 form, yes. If not, well, then Garcia might get the nod.
bandits11: Bryan, is Russell Branyan in or out? I haven't heard anything of him.
Bryan Hoch: Branyan still hasn't played, and it seems to be getting pretty late for him. He's listed as day-to-day with a back injury, but if he doesn't start getting some at-bats soon, it's impossible to see him making the team. I'm not sure where he'd fit even if healthy -- maybe an extra bat off the bench who can try to mash a homer now and then.
Mudzo_2: Why would the Yankees, with a wealth of starting pitchers about to emerge from their Minor Leagues, trade away the offensive potential of [Jesus] Montero for Pineda? A quality everyday player, even a designated hitter, is more valuable than a starter.
Bryan Hoch: That's an interesting question. I don't agree that a DH is more valuable than a young pitcher with the potential to be at the head of the rotation; starting pitching is the most valuable commodity in the game and we see it every year on the free-agent market. Anyway, the Yankees essentially had to decide between a talented young bat and a talented young arm. They chose the arm. Montero very well may turn out to be Mike Piazza; who knows? But if Pineda develops the way they hope, it'll be a good trade. He's not a finished product by any means and Brian Cashman admitted he's "dreaming on the guy." We may have to wait years to fully evaluate the trade.
NBTNYYankeeFan: I keep hearing that Ivan Nova has only two pitches. What is your understanding of the development of a third pitch?
Bryan Hoch: That's not exactly true. Nova does have a changeup and he has thrown it in big league games before. Is it a refined, plus pitch for him? No, probably not. But it seems like this is the time of year that everyone keeps talking about changeups, so Nova has been toying with it as well. We've really been watching Pineda's changeup, but the truth is that all of these guys can benefit from having that weapon in their arsenal. Anything to keep batters off balance and give them something else to think about is a good thing.
bandits11: Does, you think, Jayson Nix have a chance now that [Eduardo] Nunez is hurt?
Bryan Hoch: It doesn't seem to me that Nunez is in danger of missing Opening Day. I would be slightly concerned that he hasn't been able to swing a bat without pain for a week now, but he still has plenty of time. The fact that they sent him for X-rays and a MRI, and both were clean, is encouraging. Nix and Bill Hall would both need a significant injury to increase their chances of making the club.
Nat2530: I have been thinking a lot about [Russell] Martin and his future with the Yankees. Thinking that he might not be a Yankee next year because he might want more money than the Yanks are willing to give him. If he does end up leaving, is someone like [Austin] Romine ready to take over next year?
Bryan Hoch: Well, that's a possibility. The Yankees do love Russell Martin and feel that they got very fortunate that the Dodgers were unable to keep him, and you saw that the Yankees tried to open talks about a three-year extension. The fact that they didn't go anywhere doesn't necessarily rule out Martin's return; I could see him re-signing. We'd really need to see Romine have a full season at Triple-A to know if he projects down the line ... [Joe] Girardi thinks Romine can be more than just a big league backup, but there is no guarantee of that.
augiem78: Let's say Pineda, Garcia, and/or Hughes struggle early. Any chance we see [Manny Banuelos] or will they look for a trade?
Bryan Hoch: I think you could see Banuelos in a big league uniform by the end of this year, but I don't think he'd be the first guy in line. They know they've got a precious 21-year-old commodity and they're intent on not rushing him; plus, they'd like to see him cut down on his walks. I would imagine guys like David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell -- who aren't just Minor League fillers, by the way -- would be higher on the totem pole to be called up in the event of injuries or underperformance.
bandits11: How's the future looking to you with the Minor Leaguers in camp right now?
Bryan Hoch: For some reason, this made me think of the song lyrics about "the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades." Well, it's good. The Yankees have done a lot to rebuild their farm system and create options so it's not a must to go out and play in the free-agent market. A lot of their position player talent is at the lower levels, but they've done a good job of developing pitching. It has been fun watching some of these guys pitch this spring.
austin1230: What do you expect from Cano this year?
Bryan Hoch: Monster hitter in the No. 3 spot and above-average defense at second base. Cano is one of the best young players in the game, period, and there's a reason the Yankees are probably going to have to dig deep to find a way to keep him. He's a lethal bat and makes the game look so smooth. I'd be looking for another big year.
rvbansky: Brian, who do you think will be the Yankees top target(s) for free-agent starting pitchers at the end of 2012? I know some excellent young pitchers are poised to make the big team, but if they don't develop, I believe Cashman will pursue free agents.
Bryan Hoch: As it stands right now, the two big names everyone dreams about are Cole Hamels and Matt Cain. Whether their respective clubs move forward with contract extensions to keep them, I can't tell you, but the Yankees clearly weren't going to play in this year's free-agent market -- remember, they wouldn't even let C.J. Wilson come to Yankee Stadium for a visit. Maybe they're saving some pennies for '13, though they'll have to trim somewhere if they're really intent on coming in below $189 million in payroll for 2014.
augiem78: How do you feel Kuroda will perform this year coming from the so-so National League West to the powerhouse American League East?
Bryan Hoch: I think it's silly not to expect he'll see his ERA jump; pitching against the AL East and also working so much in Yankee Stadium will hurt his numbers some. But the Yankees expect he'll give them innings and enough ground balls to be able to win. Remember, he's also getting a much better offense behind him, so he may be able to take advantage of that.
austin1230: In what way will [Brett] Gardner need to contribute for the Yankees to run away with the World Series this year?
Bryan Hoch: Well, he can start by being more consistent at all facets of his game. I know people talk about his bunting, but the Yankees would just like to see his average (and more importantly, his on-base percentage) rise. They really did want him to succeed as the leadoff hitter last year, and that didn't work out. I see him as the No. 9 hitter and being a pest on the bases. They'd like to see him be less tentative stealing, but he already does that quite a bit as it is. Kevin Long said he could see Gardner stealing 70-80 bags someday. The Yankees would be thrilled with that.
cleated: Will Joba Chamberlain's return provide the Yankees with the strongest bullpen in the league?
Bryan Hoch: It'll be pretty good, depending on how Joba comes back. If he's back to what he was at the beginning of 2011, picking that kind of arm up in June or July is like swinging a trade without giving anything up. With Mariano [Rivera], [David] Robertson and [Rafael] Soriano already there, Joba is just a bonus.
77yanksez: With two new starters and a battle for the No. 5 spot, can you tell us a little about the chemistry among the pitching staff? How are Kuroda and Pineda fitting in?
Bryan Hoch: Chemistry is pretty good. They put Pineda's locker between Sabathia and Garcia here, and that's not by accident. There's a lot that Pineda can learn from those two guys. Kuroda seems to be happy in his new surroundings; I think the language barrier might keep guys from getting to know him as quickly, but I've heard nothing but positive things. He's already been compared to Hideki Matsui for his professionalism; that's high praise around the Yankees clubhouse.
Yankees52975: Why do you think the Yankees were so interested in Raul Ibanez over Johnny Damon? It seems like Damon has better offensive numbers, fits into the Yankees lineup better and has proven he can play in New York. Was it just because of defense?
Bryan Hoch: Yep, to put it bluntly, the Yankees didn't trust Damon in the outfield. They do like Ibanez's ability to play both left field and right field reliably, and they're not so sure there's a great offensive gap between Damon and Ibanez. Playing in Yankee Stadium against mostly right-handed pitching, I'd expect Ibanez to have a productive year. There were some rumors the Yankees didn't want to be a part of Damon chasing 3,000 hits and pouting over a part-time role, but I don't put too much stock into that.
77yanksez: Who do you see as the No. 2 starter?
Bryan Hoch: I'd go between Nova and Kuroda; probably Nova if I had to guess today, but it'd help if he started throwing some strikes this spring. Nova was their No. 2 starter in the playoffs last year, so I could see him back there.
Bryan Hoch: I've got to head out in a few minutes, so if we have any last questions, let's get to them now ...
Goyanks7: Do you think the extra Wild Card will effect the Yankees with the two great teams in the West?
Bryan Hoch: It really shouldn't be something they think about. The point of the new Wild Card is to avoid the situation the Yankees were in back in 2010, when they conceded the division to Tampa Bay because there really wasn't any penalty to getting the Wild Card. Now, no one will want their season to come down to a single game. I'm interested to see how it works. As for the key, as Derek Jeter said a few weeks ago, "Win your division, buddy."
breako: When a player gets hurt, they say, "So and so has to step up". What does that really mean? That the other player tries even harder then I assume he is already trying? I think it's a weird, meaningless statement. What do you think?
Bryan Hoch: Hmm ... I guess it's something that sounds good on a 15-second news clip. I keep thinking back to when Alex Rodriguez got hurt last year and Girardi said that guys were going to have to step up. Well, someone had to take his place. But yeah, I suppose it's one of those say-nothing quotes.
travelbug8: Where do you see Chris Dickerson by Opening Day? I hope he gets traded to a team that can use him. He has his faults, sure, but I don't think he belongs in Triple-A.
Bryan Hoch: Well, that's where he looks to be headed now. The Yankees exposed him to waivers and all 29 other teams passed, so he's Yankee property. I was actually surprised he slipped through. Being off the 40-man roster doesn't mean he can't help the Yankees later in the year, though.
Bryan Hoch: I've got time for about one more question ...
Goyanks7: Do you think the Yankees might trade Curtis Granderson at the deadline this year so they can just focus on resigning Cano to a big contract?
Bryan Hoch: Oh, I don't see that happening. Randy Levine told CBS Sports last week that the Yankees have a plan that accommodates contracts for both Cano and Granderson. I don't know how that fits under a $189 million payroll for '14, but I suppose it's possible. In any event, there's no reason to think they'd move Granderson this year.
eaglesoar: Final thought! YANKEES 2012 World Series Champions!!!
Bryan Hoch: OK, I guess we'll see, won't we?
Bryan Hoch: Thanks everyone for joining us, I've got to get ready to get over to George M. Steinbrenner Field. I enjoyed chatting with you; hopefully we can do it again soon.