What to watch for in TampaThe bullpen, first base and Matsui are a few spring storylines
However, there are other matters that will be worth keeping more than just a passing eye on once pitchers, catchers, and all other players assemble in Tampa starting on Valentine's Day. Here's five important ones.
The Kyle Farnsworth Salvage Project
After two largely disappointing seasons in pinstripes, Kyle Farnsworth is in the final year of the three-year, $17 million contract that he signed following a fantastic season in which he split time with Detroit and Atlanta. Last year was especially rough for him, as Farnsworth appeared to be in and out of Joe Torre's doghouse while permanently taking up residence in the negative graces of the media. It might have seemed like the hard-throwing yet erratic right-hander was a lock not to be with the team in '08, but new manager Joe Girardi appears to be committed to straightening out Farnsworth for good.
"I had a chance to catch Kyle when he was in Chicago when he was dominant. I've always had a lot of confidence in what he can do," Girardi said during a chat session with the media during the Winter Meetings. "I know Kyle's personality. I kind of know what makes Kyle tick from that standpoint because obviously we are 61 feet apart a lot of days. I'll use the things that I know about Kyle to instill confidence and motivate him."
That little issue of Chamberlain possibly being needed in the bullpen would quiet down heavily if Girardi can help harness all of Farnsworth's raw ability and get the 6'4, 235-pounder back into top form.
Who's on First?
With Doug Mientkiewicz a free agent and Andy Phillips gone to Cincinatti, first base is really the only question mark among positions on the Yankees' roster. Health problems have made Jason Giambi a liability in the field with his lack of range and his inability to make throws around the diamond. Wilson Betemit and Shelley Duncan could prove to be an effective platoon, though it remains to be seen if either can handle the job on an everyday basis. Indications are that Jason Lane will also have a chance to work himself into that mix, although his resume at first is thin (four appearances in 497 career games). Might the team have been better off by simply retaining Phillips? We'll find out when all the candidates take the field in February.
Keep an eye on Hawk
When the Yankees declared that they were not looking to sink multi-year contracts into relievers during the offseason, that ruled out Luis Vizcaino after an up-and-down season in which he was effective more often than not. They were able to fill the void by signing a one-year deal with the pitcher Vizcaino is replacing in Colorado, LaTroy Hawkins, who was instrumental in the Rockies' run to the World Series. While his 2.31 ERA in August and September might make this signing look good on paper, Hawkins' last turn in the American League raises cause for concern. In 2006, he posted a 4.48 ERA and a .300 BAA with the Baltimore Orioles. Will he be able to re-adjust to the Junior Circuit and become the dependable innings eater that Vizcaino turned into once he got past a rocky start?
Godzilla versus ... the Yankees?
Between the emergence of Johnny Damon as a left fielder and Giambi's production when he's getting at-bats, even when he's only drawing walks, Hideki Matsui is looking at a reduction in playing time in some capacity. There were some rumors about a potential deal that would have sent Matsui to the Giants, but that talk faded out once San Francisco signed center fielder Aaron Rowand.
Matsui underwent arthroscopic surgery in November to clean out the inside of his right knee, so not only will it be interesting to see if he is fully healthy, but he will have to remain healthy through the early grind of the spring even the most minor of tweaks could affect his swing or his play in the field, and it would hurt the team if he soldiers through. The issue of his playing time cannot truly be resolved until the games matter.
Will the "other" kids be alright?
As great as Ian Kennedy looked at every level he pitched at last season, the newlywed only logged 19 innings in the Majors. Phil Hughes lost velocity in the second half of the season, perhaps due to the strained left hamstring that kept him out of action for three months, although he looked great in his final appearance: a victorious relief outing in Game 3 of the ALDS. The task of keeping them on track will fall largely on the shoulders of new pitching coach Dave Eiland, who has worked with both youngsters in the past. Barring any setbacks, there's no reason to think that each can't post double-digit win totals and acceptable ERAs. Will they both be able to take the next steps in their development?