Goal remains same for world champ Yanks
With camp set to open, New York sets sights on title No. 28
NEW YORK -- As the falling confetti over the Canyon of Heroes gave way to snowflakes, Joe Girardi went home and quietly pondered switching his wardrobe to reflect the changing atmosphere of the Yankees' mission statement.
After all, No. 27 was so 2009.
Girardi's decision to upgrade to uniform No. 28 was an easy one after making a quick check with outfielder Curtis Granderson to make sure he didn't want it first. But Granderson showed a quick understanding of the ultimate plan, saying that the manager needs that number a little bit more.
"Worst-case scenario, if we win, I can get No. 28 next year," said Granderson, an All-Star outfielder who will be one of the new faces in camp this year when the Yankees play their first innings since Game 6 of the World Series.
As the Yankees begin their journey, the idea is to get back to the postseason, an October-or-bust stance that might as well be synonymous with the Steinbrenner name.
The Yankees will be attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back World Series titles since Joe Torre dripped tears across the Shea Stadium infield and on the shoulders of his players in 2000, and they're well aware that shiny rings don't translate to victories in the here and now.
"You really don't have much time to sit around and focus on last season," Derek Jeter told reporters last week after a workout in Tampa, Fla. "That's when you get in trouble as a team, when you get happy with what you've been able to do.
"Our job is to try to win again. It was great. Last year was a wonderful year, but last year is over with."
New York will hold its first workout for pitchers and catchers on Thursday, with the entire roster gathering for the first time at the George M. Steinbrenner Field complex on Feb. 24. It is a seven-week march through the Grapefruit League that takes the Yankees all the way to Fenway Park on April 4, where the Yankees and Red Sox will have the honors of playing the season's first inning in a nationally-televised ESPN contest.
But there is a long way to go before then, and many decisions for Girardi and his coaching staff to evaluate. Several of the Yankees are not wasting any time getting the clock rolling -- A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Jeter and CC Sabathia were among the stars expected to be present and accounted for in camp by the first crack of the bat on Monday morning.
Chamberlain and Hughes will be going head-to-head in one of the most compelling battles of the spring, as they jockey to earn the right to become the Yankees' fifth starter behind Sabathia, Burnett, Andy Pettitte and second-time Yankee Javier Vazquez, acquired in a December trade with the Braves.
"It's something that's going to be a battle," Chamberlain said. "The greatest part about it is it's not only going to make guys fight for that No. 5 spot, but it's going to make our team better. We're going to push each other and continue to try to outwork each other."
Not that the competition is limited to just Chamberlain or Hughes. The Yankees have made sure to remind everyone that candidates like Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre are also going to be involved in the mix, as New York ideally would love to get 200 innings from all five of its starting pitchers.
"I don't think you can ever have too much starting pitching," Girardi said. "Especially with the ages of some of our starters, you don't necessarily want to feel like you have to push them too far. That was one of the things that we wanted to do -- we were able to slow down a little bit in September and get the guys physically rested. I like being able to not pitch guys on short rest if you don't have to."
Once spring games begin, the Yankees will get a first look at their restructured lineup, which adds designated hitter Nick Johnson in the two-hole and features Granderson's left-handed power in the order, as well as offering Randy Winn a chance to fight speedy Brett Gardner for at-bats.
Girardi is open to the idea of considering Granderson in either center field or left field, since if Gardner winds up in the defensive alignment, he may project better as a plus defender in center field. Granderson has said that whatever makes the team better, he will go along with.
"Change is always a good thing," Granderson said. "I'm excited to get a chance to play with the defending world champions and learn from those guys -- great veterans and great players, and a great coaching staff, in a great city."
The entire Yankees starting infield from 2009 remains intact, with Jorge Posada behind the plate and joined around the horn by Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira. Nick Swisher returns as the right fielder, and New York will sort out the last spots on its bench this spring.
A relief staff anchored by future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera will have some alterations, with at least one of the fifth-starter candidates likely to wind up there by the end of camp. In addition to the returning squad from 2009, lefty Boone Logan should get a look to replace Phil Coke, who went to the Tigers in the Granderson deal.
Girardi was recently asked if he believed his changed team was better than the roster that clustered at the center of Yankee Stadium on Nov. 4, hoisting the World Series trophy high in the air.
The manager wasn't about to make any sort of Joe Namath championship promises, but clearly he believes that the winter work has set the Yankees up for another season of winning baseball.
"We've gotten younger, we've added rotation depth, and our young relievers have another year of experience," Girardi said. "Are we better? I don't know, but I like our club again."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.