No 'Camp Quiet' for Yanks this spring
A-Rod steroid allegations will be hot topic at Tampa complex
NEW YORK -- In many Spring Training cities, the first days of business make for a more relaxed atmosphere, one where pitchers and catchers can get reacquainted over golf strokes and swap winter tales before the hectic workload sets in.
The Yankees will have no such luxury this year, but they never count on it anyway. The "Camp Quiet" that general manager Brian Cashman jokingly wishes for will not be in session, as a media crush prepares to descend upon Tampa, Fla., pursuing the latest hot story -- this time, allegations that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003.
The storylines may change, but it's business as usual for the Yankees, who usually see their springs take on a circus atmosphere. If not for the revelations about A-Rod in the Sports Illustrated article, the first few days of Yankees camp were going to revolve around claims made in the 447 pages of Joe Torre's recently published book.
That's life in the Yankees' fishbowl, where the names are as big as the expectations and distraction always lurks around the corner. It will be up to second-year manager Joe Girardi to run a tight ship and hurdle those obstacles as he again tries for the objective upon his back -- No. 27, as in the Yankees' 27th World Series championship.
"We'll have our ups and our downs, we'll have our good times and our bad times," Cashman said. "We'll have disappointments and injuries. It's like a race to get to that last day as healthy as you can possibly get, so you can lock the team in, whatever it is.
"Whatever happens in-season is going to happen in-season, but ... you just hope you can get through it, get everybody ready and battle-tested."
With several players already working out at the Yankees' Minor League complex on Himes Avenue, the rest of the roster will filter into the Tampa city limits this week. Girardi will hold his first meeting of the year with reporters on Thursday while pitchers and catchers must report to camp by Friday.
The Yankees hold their first workout on Saturday, and with position players stopping by for physicals and to check their bags, New York's full roster will take to the fields for the first time on Feb. 18. The gates at George M. Steinbrenner Field will open for the first time in 2009, welcoming in fans hungry for the new season of Yankees baseball to begin.
Even before the latest stories, the Yankees figured to be the stars of the spring news cycle. New York was the unquestioned champion of the Hot Stove League, adding CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to the rotation for a combined $243.5 million.
"I expect to go out and win games and pitch well," Sabathia said. "That's what I'm here to do. I like to have fun. I'm going to have fun and be free-spirited and have fun. I'm looking forward to not having to change that. I definitely made the right choice."
Burnett added: "This is a dream come true. I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be a fun ride. I want to pitch in the postseason, and I'm here to win. I think both of us are dedicated to winning, or else we wouldn't be here."
If that wasn't enough, the Yankees tossed another gift under their tree two days before Christmas, pulling a fast one on the Red Sox and signing first baseman Mark Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million deal. Teixeira should make an impact, both on and off the field.
"I look at myself as a leader," Teixeira said. "First and foremost, I try to do things the right way on the field, and I think you can carry that over to the locker room and earn the respect of your teammates. I've always thought that a team has a few leaders that they look up to, and I've always wanted to be that guy."
By also retaining Andy Pettitte and Damaso Marte, the Yankees believe they have upgraded over the squad that won 89 games and finished third in the American League East, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Heading into a new Yankee Stadium for 2009, pitching was the priority, and the Yankees got the guys they wanted most.
While there will be plenty of big-name players to watch in camp, the Yankees' spring will also be notable for who is not there. Derek Jeter has committed to play shortstop for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and will face the Yankees in a March 3 exhibition game.
A-Rod, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera are also among the regulars who have committed to the Classic, signing on with the Dominican Republic.
"We'll be watching some of our guys from afar for a while, but Spring Training is a necessary evil to some degree," Cashman said. "You've got to get them ready, but you want to make sure they're healthy while you're getting them ready. Sometimes things happen in these exhibition games, but it's part of the process and you have to do it."
There are also issues the Yankees will need to settle. Switch-hitting catcher Jorge Posada, one of the club's most indispensable players, missed more than half the '08 season with a lingering right shoulder problem that required surgery. Posada has made Tampa his home base, recently pushing his throws to 120 feet, and the Yankees are pushing to get him ready.
All reports have been positive to this point, but it is less than certain if Posada will be catching on April 6 at Baltimore, or how much Girardi will be able to use him behind the plate this season. For the moment, the Yankees are employing a wait-and-see philosophy, with cautious optimism.
"Obviously, he's very important to this club," Girardi said recently. "We need him. I'm encouraged right now. ... You can talk about playing three out of four [games] or four out of five, but I think early on the important thing is that we don't abuse him, and allow him to continue to gain strength in that shoulder. I plan on him being our everyday catcher."
The Yankees will also closely monitor the progress of closer Mariano Rivera, who had arthroscopic shoulder surgery shortly after his final appearance of the year -- locking down Mike Mussina's 20th victory on Sept. 28 at Fenway Park.
Mussina may be gone now, off to a life of John Deere tractors and Pennsylvania farmland, but Rivera is still plugging away. The Yankees need him to prepare for the season opener, and he will go about his business in the usual methodical fashion -- limiting exhibition innings and avoiding bus trips at all costs.
Perhaps the biggest battles waged in camp will concern the outfield. At present, the only certainties on paper are that Johnny Damon is envisioned as the Opening Day left fielder and leadoff hitter, and Hideki Matsui -- cautiously recovering from knee surgery -- would be the designated hitter.
That leaves several mix-and-match possibilities for Girardi, who projects to have Cabrera and Brett Gardner competing for the center-field job. Girardi will also set Xavier Nady and November acquisition Nick Swisher up in a battle for right field, barring a player move that could happen during the spring.
At present, there appear to be more pegs than holes, but Cashman said recently that he is looking for even more players to attend camp on non-roster invitations, just in case. Makes sense: the way the Yankees operate day to day, it's probably best to expect the unexpected.
"The nature of the beast is that you never have the full roster at full health, the way you draw it up," Cashman said. "It just doesn't work out that way -- unfortunately, it never does. That's why you have to be ready."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.