As camp opens, lineup Girardi's top concern
Manager will use spring slate to find consistent batting order
TAMPA, Fla. -- It was the first day back at the spring office, and Joe Girardi couldn't help but like what he saw. Players were showing up in shape and on time, the manager's uniform fit like a glove and -- most importantly -- there was a new celebratory banner hanging over the walkway to the dugout.
The cast of characters has changed slightly from the group that celebrated that World Series title, but none of the arriving pitchers and catchers needed to check their lockers for a memorandum from Girardi's office. For Yankees new and old, the mission statement doesn't need to be repeated.
"The expectation here is the same every year, so in a sense you're supposed to repeat every year," Girardi said. "We understand that. The players in the room understand it. It's something that the organization has always stood for."
On the eve of the Bombers' first Spring Training workout, the skipper of the defending World Series champions met with the media for more than 30 minutes in a party tent adjacent to George M. Steinbrenner Field, addressing numerous topics in a wide-ranging interview.
Girardi said that his No. 1 concern heading into the spring, outside of injuries, is ironing out how the lineup will look after the departures of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera.
Derek Jeter returns to the leadoff spot, but the Yankees will decide between Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson in the two-hole, with one of those players likely hitting seventh. Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher will also be among those juggled as Girardi tries to find a consistent order by the end of the spring.
"There's a ton of talent in that room, and we have very good hitters up and down that lineup," Girardi said. "You want to try to find the right mix, and we found it last year. Part of the reason was that we were able to keep people healthy. We kept Matsui, Posada and Johnny healthy for the whole year.
"We struggled a little bit early, because Alex [Rodriguez] wasn't healthy, and Alex is extremely important. The concern is where we put them, not that we don't have the right pieces. I believe we have the right pieces."
The Yankees' main battles heading into the spring will concern the outfield and the fifth spot in the rotation. Granderson and Brett Gardner offer two capable options for center field, with the loser of the center-field battle likely to slide over to left field, while Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes lead a pack of candidates to round out the starting staff.
Girardi said that he knows Granderson can play left or center field without issue and believes that Gardner can learn to play left. While Granderson is athletic enough to go back and forth between left and center depending on if Gardner is in the lineup, Girardi said he would prefer to have players in a set position.
"Right now we have what I believe are two good center fielders," Girardi said. "The criteria is that we will look at what's best for the team and what we think gives us the best chance to win every day."
As for the rotation spot, the Yankees will consider Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre along with Chamberlain and Hughes. Girardi said that the competition should benefit all parties involved, but he wants to make sure the youngest candidates don't get amped up too early.
"The one thing as a manager that you worry about is that they start competing tomorrow," Girardi said. "I don't want them to compete tomorrow. I want them to get ready to pitch in a couple of weeks from a physical standpoint. But I expect [those] two guys to pitch at a very high level."
In what is shaping up as a relatively calm Yankees camp, one of the few juicy tabloid storylines will be the respective contract statuses of Girardi, Jeter and Mariano Rivera, though the club has said that it will stick to policy and not negotiate any extensions in-season. Girardi said that stance will be just fine for him.
"I'm one of 30 guys who's got a job in the big leagues as a manager," Girardi said. "I consider myself pretty fortunate, actually, because I've been on both sides. I've been a manager and I've not been a manager for a year. It's a lot better when you have a contract, so I feel pretty good about that."
After reaping the social benefits of a team-wide billiards tournament last spring, Girardi said the Yankees are planning a similar bonding exercise for March 2, the day before exhibition games begin. Some ideas like paintball and bowling were rejected due to injury concerns, but the team will have fun again on an off-campus field trip to be determined.
"I thought it gave guys a chance to mingle with guys they don't necessarily all get a chance to mingle with -- to talk to each other, learn about each other, and compete against each other," Girardi said. "Competition is fun. I think that brings out the best in people."
Girardi said that he would hold off on offering a rah-rah speech to the pitchers and catchers before Thursday's workout, wanting to save his "A" material for the first full-squad gathering on Feb. 24.
But the general address will convey the idea that what happened in 2009 was wonderful, but it won't guarantee anything once Opening Day arrives.
"The gist of that message is, 'It all starts over,'" Girardi said. "You can't rely on what we did last year. You can pull from your experience, but it all starts over, everyone is 0-0 going into April 4. We know what it took last year, and we have to work hard and get that feeling back."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.