Yankees: Five burning spring training questions

Is Joba healthy and where does he fit in 2012?

As usual, the Yankees don’t have a lot of question marks heading into spring training.

That’s the benefit of having somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million to work with.

That’s not to say the Yankees didn’t make a few radical changes though. They shipped off fan frustration A.J. Burnett to the Pirates last week and traded promising prospect Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda.

So what do you have to look forward to this spring?

1. Will two lefty relievers make the team?

In a perfect Yankees pitching world, Boone Logan and Pedro Feliciano would have been the two lefties out of the bullpen. Perfection was ruined by Feliciano’s shoulder injury and surgery so for most of the year the Yankees went with just Logan.

This year, candidates for the second southpaw job — if the Yankees take that route — include Rule 5 pick Cesar Cabral, who spent the last six seasons in the Red Sox minor league system.

Among nonroster candidates for a second lefty with major league experience, Mike O’Connor and Clay Rapada are in camp.

O’Connor, who has pitched for the Nationals and Mets, has a .308 batting average against, while Rapada has held lefties to a career .173 average in five seasons. He has pitched for the Cubs and Tigers among others.

2. Who will be the team’s No. 5 starter?

Two years ago, Phil Hughes won this competition.

Hughes won after being a successful setup reliever in 2009 with a fastball that averaged 93 miles per hour. His fastball remained at 93 mph and he won 18 games in 2010. But then his fastball velocity slightly dipped coinciding with a mysterious arm injury.

Now Hughes has lost 20 pounds, but does that mean he is better off in the rotation?

The Yankee preference would be to have Hughes in the rotation but his competition is 12-game winner Freddy Garcia. Garcia’s relief experience consists of one outing 12 years ago and if Hughes can’t pitch well during spring training, the job could be Garcia’s.

It’s unlikely the job would go to anyone other than Hughes or Garcia, specifically with A.J. Burnett being shown the door, but young stud lefty Manny Banuelos will be in camp and after an impressive spring last year, don’t be surprised to see fans clamoring for the 20-year-old.

3. Where does Joba fit in?

Last week, Joba Chamberlain said he felt no pain following Tommy John surgery in June and that his recovery was progressing well.

The target return for Chamberlain is sometime in June, but assuming he does return where does he fit in?

The eighth inning is David Robertson’s and the seventh is likely Rafael Soriano. Cory Wade and Boone Logan also fit into the picture and the middle innings appear to be where Chamberlain is headed when he returns.

4. How healthy is A-Rod?

Alex Rodriguez has dealt with injuries in two of the last three years.

In 2009, he missed the first 28 games with a hip injury, but that was nothing compared to last season.

Rodriguez had knee surgery in July and missed over a month. He also was bothered by a wrist injury much of the year. The combination of both of those injuries limited him to 99 games. He had 16 home runs, 62 runs batted in and a .823 on-base percentage plus slugging.

Those numbers were his lowest since 1997 when he appeared in 141 games for the Seattle Mariners as a 21-year-old in his second full season.

5. What is Andruw Jones’ role in 2012?

Is it a subtle message that veteran outfielder Andruw Jones was the first Yankee position to appear in camp?

But he has shown up about 10 pounds lighter and with a healthier left knee that was scoped during the offseason.

Does that mean there will be a left-field platoon of Jones and Gardner?

Gardner has everything a manger wants in a leadoff man, speedy, top-notch defensive and patient at the plate. On the downside, Gardner batted .220 against lefties and Jones hit .286.

There also isn’t any real consensus on who the Yankees’ fourth outfielder will be. Jones is the top option, but he is entering his 17th season.

Newly signed Raul Ibanez could play some, but a younger, defensive replacement might be invitee Dewayne Wise.


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