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The Yankees have reported to camp and have officially begun their quest for their 28th World Series title. After a disappointing first round defeat at the hands of the Detroit Tigers in 2011, the Yanks have reloaded their pitching staff while keeping mostly the same lineup. Despite being the favorites for the AL East title, there are plenty of questions for the Yankees this season as spring training begins. We picked out 10 and offered our best analysis.
1. What's the deal with the DH spot and the bench?
The Yankees are going to use the DH spot as a rotating place for their aging players, most notably Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. The days of paying someone a huge sum of money to be a 160-game DH are gone, as the Yanks feel they need to give A-Rod, Jeter and others a half a day off every now and then by DHing them. But still, the Yankees are looking at candidates such as Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez to fill a key bench role, mixing in some field and DH duties. It will be interesting to see who is brought to camp, and eventually, who gets the job.
2. How healthy is Alex Rodriguez?
Alex Rodriguez has officially become a volatile stock. You just simply don't know what you're going to get from him in 2012. Alex underwent controversial offseason surgery on his right knee and left shoulder -- from a German doctor under the advice of Kobe Bryant -- and there's just no way of knowing how A-Rod will look until he comes to camp and starts playing in games. He's coming off statistically the worst season of his entire career, and his body is seemingly breaking down.
Rodriguez will be 37 in July. Should we expect more of what we saw in 2011? Perhaps. But it's also possible that Rodriguez comes into the season fully healthy and rejuvenated. If that's the case, you can't be shocked if he puts up high power numbers, which is what he's now in the lineup to do.
3. Who gets the 5th spot in the rotation?
After acquiring Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to bolster their starting rotation, the Yankees turned probably their biggest weakness into a strength. However, there's still one pitcher too many in consideration to make up their starting five. C.C. Sabathia, Pineda and Kuroda are guaranteed, and then there's Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia battling it out for the remaining two spots. To me, Nova grabs the four spot based off his very solid rookie year, and I think Garcia will end up being the odd man out. Although Hughes does have experience and prior success coming out of the bullpen, so that could be an option as well.
4. Will age catch up with the Yankees?
It's a question every year for the Yankees. There are only two players left of the "Core Four" -- Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Both are coming off of incredibly strong seasons for players in their positions at their ages. Eventually, Mariano Rivera isn't going to be the Yankees' dominant closer. Does his continue to dominate until he gives up the game, whenever he does decide to do so? We'll see. Jeter's second half last year proved that he can still be a top of the line hitter, and while he likely won't hit like that over the course of an entire season, he is totally capable of hitting in the .280 range. The more likely facet of his game to drop off is his defense.
5. Can Granderson do it again?
Last season, the Yankees got an unexpected career year from Curtis Granderson. Even when they acquired him prior to the 2010 season, they weren't quite expecting him to lead the league in RBIs, as he did in 2011 with 119, and he also had a career high 41 home runs. But looking at Granderson's career stats, his stellar 2011 was an outlier. There's no reason to believe he won't be productive, and his swing is tailor made for the favorable right field porch at Yankee Stadium, so he will always be a home run threat. Still, his numbers were so high ahead of his career averages, so a re-do of his 2011 seems unlikely.
6. What is Mark Teixeira?
This seems like it could be a make or break year for Mark Teixeira. 2012 will tell us whether Teixeira is still a great all around hitter or if he's become strictly a power guy with a low batting average and low on-base percentage. Since becoming a Yankee in 2009, Teixeira's average, OBP, OPS and doubles have all decreased. His .246 average last year was way too low for a hitter like him in his prime, and it caused Joe Girardi to move him down the 5th spot in the lineup in favor of the more reliable Robinson Cano. With the uncertainty of Alex Rodriguez and the likely lowering of Curtis Granderson's numbers, the Yankees would like to see Teixeira go back to be being a much more well-rounded hitter.
7. How will the Red Sox and Rays be in 2012?
How many games will the Yankees need to win to win the AL East in 2012? It remains to be seen whether the Bobby Valentine effect will be a good one or a bad one for the Red Sox. Personally, I think it's the type of situation without much gray area; either it will be a rousing success or a total disaster. At this point, the Tampa Bay Rays might be a better bet to challenge the Yankees for division supremacy. There's no reason to think, despite their still-low payroll and overall youth, they won't be at the top of the hunt for the wild card. The Yankees are still the favorites, but the AL East remains one of most competitive and best divisions in baseball.
8. Can Pineda Handle New York?
The Yankees made a blockbuster trade in the offseason by sending catching prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for Michael Pineda. Pineda, one of the top young pitchers in the game, is projected to be the Yankees' No. 2 starter behind C.C. Sabathia. There's no doubting Pineda's talent -- he put up very good numbers for a young pitcher on the league's worst offensive team in 2011 -- but the one question that comes with every player that comes to the Yankees is whether or not they can succeed in New York. Pitching well in the AL West in meaningless games from May on is one thing. Pitching for the Yankees, in the AL East, at Fenway Park, in important late season games and the postseason is another. All signs point to Pineda being talented enough to get the job done. But you just never know.
9. What will Joba Chamberlain's role be, and how will he perform?
At this point, the Yankees have probably ruined Joba Chamberlain. After trying to make him a starting pitcher, stunting his development with the ridiculous Joba Rules, and then forcing him back to the bullpen again, Chamberlain is at a crossroads in his career. If he's healthy, can he regain any of the form that made him one of the most talked about pitching prospects in the league just a few years ago? If he's going fo have a role with the Yankees this year and beyond, it'll have to tangibly start this year.
10. Who's throwing pies?
With AJ Burnett gone to Pittsburgh, will the walk-off win pie-throwing continue? And if it does, who will take over the pie-throwing duties? These are important things.