Yankees spring training: 10 storylines to watch

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka makes his first spring start on Thursday.
Credit: Getty Images

After missing the playoffs for just the second time since 1995, the Yankees reloaded with three big-time free agent signings.

The last time they missed the playoffs they did the same thing — and won the World Series in the resulting season.

Expectations won’t be any different in 2014. But all those expectations start with a spring training ripe with storylines for the AL East’s third-place finisher in 2013. (Did we mention the Red Sox won the World Series?)

The biggest story comes from across the Pacific, but whether the team can make it back to the postseason in 2014 may rely on the smallest player on the entire roster.

1. Welcome to America

Nice of you to join the Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka. Now, you will be winning 20 games, right?

Tanaka is story No. 1, 2 and 3 this spring. The Japanese ace signed a seven-year, $155 million contract — on top of a $20 million posting fee — and needs to show he can compete against MLB talent this spring. He makes his first start Thursday, but showed a nasty splitter in a relief debut Saturday. It’s a good first step.

2. No Cano

Robinson Cano turned his back on New York this offseason and left a gaping hole in the infield.

Instead of making a big splash in the trade market — there was no big-time free agent second baseman — the Yankees brought in veteran retread Brian Roberts. Fans who watched him cause chaos on the basepaths for years with Baltimore should know they are not getting the same player as the mid-2000s.

The 5-foot-9 speedster has lost a few miles per hour after four consecutive years of injury. In fact, Roberts has yet to play this spring. Derek Jeter warned him to come back from injury (including a concussion and torn hamstring) slowly. He’s taking heed, but will need to show he’s healthy before April.

3. Slimmed down

CC Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his 13-year career. And yet he’s still the team’s No. 1 this March.

The 6-foot-7 starter came into camp at 275 pounds after being listed at a likely generous 290 pounds recently. Now he has to shave something off his 2013 career-worst 4.78 ERA, too.

He pitched two sterling innings in his Saturday debut, but was overshadowed by that Tanaka fellow in his debut.

4. Is Derek Jeter healthy?

We know Derek Jeter is retiring, but is he healthy enough to play 140 games? I don’t think anyone, even Jeter, will know until after spring.

5. Replacing Rodriguez

If Yankees camp is conspicuously quiet in terms of gossip headlines, it might be because Alex Rodriguez isn’t around.

After threatening to show up, he accepted his suspension and will miss 2014. But can Eduardo Nunez be the everyday third baseman? The other option is Kelly Johnson. They’ll battle it out for the Opening Day start.

6. Hall of Fame benchwarmer

Ichiro Suzuki seems like a man without a position this spring. Either he wins a spot on the bench this spring — or gets traded by April.

7. Battle for the fifth spot

All things being equal, the Yankees would probably love to have Michael Pineda prove he is healthy and win the No. 5 starter role.

But he hasn’t pitched in two years and is coming off major shoulder surgery. He’s yet to get on the mound this spring. David Phelps is a conservative choice, with lefty Vidal Nuno the dark horse.

8. Closing time

The closer role has been officially passed from Mariano Rivera to David Robertson. Now he just needs to show he can do it.

The 28-year-old former All-Star setup man has been shaky in temporary duty filling in for Rivera. And remember, it was Rafael Soriano who closed during 2012 partly for that reason. He has tremendously huge shoes to fill.

9. Murphy or Cervelli?

The backup catcher position is never a sexy one, but it can be more important than any other backup.

The newly named John Robert Murphy has looked good in a week of spring games, but the job is Francisco Cervelli’s to lose — despite a 50-game ban in 2013 due to the Biogenesis scandal.

10. Future prospects

The Yankees aren’t going to bring any real prospects north with them, but there are still a few worth watching.

Mason Williams is getting some early play, but in a crowded outfield he’s likely trade material. Pitcher Jose Campos, catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Slade Heathcott and outfielder Tyler Austin are all worth watching.

Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.


Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.


Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…


OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…


MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.


Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."


'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.


'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."


TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.


Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.


Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.


Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”


Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.


Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.


Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…


NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.


The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.