State of the Yankees: Business as usual
Yanks have new skipper for first time in decade, same attitude
TAMPA, Fla. -- While many in baseball kept their eyes firmly trained on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, Joe Girardi remained sealed off in a windowless room. Deep within the heart of Legends Field, there wasn't much talk of steroids or human growth hormone -- or anything of else, for that matter. Only talk of the Yankees.
"We took about a 10-minute break to get sandwiches, and that was basically it," Girardi said. "The TV was never on. I had my sandwiches -- a couple of them, actually -- and moved on."
The Yankees would all love to move on -- that much is certain. Perhaps this spring they'll be able to, and perhaps the official dawn of Spring Training on Thursday will provide the perfect outlet for that to happen. After all, there's reason to move on. Beyond all the hype surrounding what's happened off the field this winter, the fact remains that the Yankees remain one of the best teams in the league.
So when Girardi and the rest of the Yankees brass met to discuss the state of the team on Wednesday -- a meeting that lasted more than seven hours -- they had reason to be excited. It's finally time to start anew.
All of that begins with Girardi. In a time of flux for the Yankees, he's the most conspicuous symbol of change. For the first time in 12 years, someone other than Joe Torre has been stalking around Legends Field, as odd as that may seem.
"It's different, that's for sure," Girardi said. "He's been a fixture here through so many good times."
If images of Joe Torre in Dodger blue didn't confirm the dawn of a new era, then the start of Spring Training most certainly will. This is a Yankee team unlike any other in recent history, and different even than the one that filtered into Tampa last February. So when Girardi and the gang locked themselves in a room together on Wednesday afternoon, there were ample issues to discuss.
"We talked about a lot of the young players who are in Double-A, and even some of the guys that were in A ball," Girardi said. "The progress that they're making -- to me, that's exciting."
And so as Spring Training progresses, the issues surrounding the Yankees will gradually shift their way back onto the field. This is a young team, and young teams have uncertainty. There are perhaps more questions surrounding the Yankees right now than during any other spring this decade.
Most of them revolve around the rotation. Right now, the Yankees have six starters vying for five spots, and Girardi said little on Wednesday to clear up the confusion. Andy Pettitte has a spot, as do Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina -- general manager Brian Cashman confirmed that much on Wednesday. But he wouldn't say who among Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain or Ian Kennedy would also earn first crack at the rotation.
Speculation this week heightened that Chamberlain might begin the season as a reliever, though there has been no official confirmation from the club. Whether that actually occurs may depend heavily on his March performances.
"We're going to try to take the best pitchers we can," Girardi said. "This is Spring Training. It's a new year, and players have to prove themselves."
Because of Chamberlain's situation, what happens within the rotation will also trickle down to the bullpen. Mariano Rivera is the closer, of course, but beyond that, little is set. Kyle Farnsworth and new addition LaTroy Hawkins will find roles somewhere, but exactly where remains to be seen.
About the only area that's set with any sort of conviction is the lineup, with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez again anchoring a rightly impressive group of hitters. Yet even that crew isn't without uncertainty, as Shelley Duncan, Jason Giambi, Wilson Betemit and Morgan Ensberg are all set to compete for playing time at first base.
Hideki Matsui, too, remains in question after he had offseason surgery to clean out his right knee. Girardi said he anticipates his left fielder to be back to normal by Opening Day, though he's likely to be limited for the start of Spring Training.
"The one thing that we don't want to do is set him back," Girardi said. "We just have to play it by ear and pay close attention to how he feels. When he's ready, he'll be out. He'll be playing."
The issues are plenty, and that's just on the field. This is New York, and personnel decisions -- as Girardi well knows -- are only part of the trouble. To that end, he has the general manager's blessing -- "I'm fully confident," Cashman said Wednesday -- so that when the commotion arrives, his primary job will simply be to keep everyone sane.
And, of course, to win.
"Spring Training was always a sign of hope," Girardi said. "The winter was over, and the game that you love was about to start taking place.
"I'm excited about that."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.