Bauman: Yanks camp eerily quiet
Coming off title season, club savoring early respite from noise
TAMPA, Fla. -- "Quiet" is a goal for many Spring Training camps, a goal that often is not reached. The New York Yankees have reached that goal. In fact, they may have gone beyond "quiet" all the way to "tranquil."
This is not to suggest that the reigning World Series champions are in danger of becoming smug, complacent or self-satisfied. Being a Yankee, by definition, does not allow for that sort of thing. Winning a championship is supposed to lead only to the next championship. But it is relatively quiet here at George M. Steinbrenner Field, especially for the Yankees.
Some members of the New York baseball media are referring to this as "Camp Quiet." When general manager Brian Cashman was asked on Monday if he was enjoying "Camp Quiet," he winced a bit and said: "I don't want to say that."
No, from the Yankees' perspective, you don't want to jinx something like this. You just want to savor it.
There are no scandals, no controversies, no major conflicts, no apparent schisms. Yes, it's early. The regulars won't work out until Wednesday. But there isn't much reason to expect that this operation -- a vision of cohesion at this point -- is suddenly going to take a left turn into chaos.
It is impossible to miss the contrast between this February and one year ago in the camp of the Yankees. Last year, you had Alex Rodriguez and his steroid confession, a moment of real personal and organizational embarrassment. The Yankees were coming off a season in which they missed reaching the postseason for the first time since, what, the Pleistocene Age? There was considerable concern that manager Joe Girardi wasn't going to measure up to Joe Torre. There were lingering doubts and lingering questions about what kind of return the Yankees were going to get for spending $423.5 million on three players in one winter.
But Rodriguez got beyond that controversy and right hip surgery, the lavishly reimbursed new employees did their parts, the veteran core players performed nobly and some young players emerged to help. Girardi proved conclusively that he was good enough to manage under baseball's biggest microscope, and instead of noting that he had been dismissed by the Florida Marlins, people were recalling that he had an engineering degree from Northwestern University so his intelligence had been a matter of public record for some time.
Put it all together and this organization moved onward and upward to its first World Series championship in nine years. The spring aftermath is a camp in which order reigns. The questions to be answered have to do with finding the right fit for the right jobs. They are normal baseball questions and there are more than enough potential answers available.
The fifth starter? Two young and extremely talented pitchers, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, are in contention, along with Alfredo Aceves, Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin. The question of how best to channel Chamberlain's prodigious abilities may finally have an answer.
In any case, some of the losers in this derby will go to the bullpen -- there to offer substantial depth. More depth has been added with the signing of Chan Ho Park, pending a physical. Park announced the signing himself from Korea. Cashman could not officially confirm the deal Monday, but the bullpen is an area in which he is always aiming for both quantity and quality.
"I think we have a terrific bullpen," the general manager said. "The more the merrier. You can never have enough."
Girardi saw it the same way.
"The one thing that we will do here is, we will make sure we will take what we think are the best 12 arms," the manager said. "And we don't leave Spring Training and say, 'This is the way it and it's going to be this way all year.' Having quality arms in your camps, and more quality arms in those spots, is a luxury. It's our job to try to make the right decisions."
The other issues also come with no shortages of solutions. Who should bat in the No. 2 spot in a typically strong lineup, Curtis Granderson or Nick Johnson? Each would bring a different set of strengths to that role, but this is hardly a problem.
Or which outfielder should play which position, Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left, or vice versa? These are two plus-defensive outfielders. There may be no wrong choice here. It is merely a matter of finding the better solution.
There was a brief revisiting of a pitch-selection controversy left over from the 2009 postseason between starter A.J. Burnett and catcher Jorge Posada. There seemed to be a genuine difference of opinion, but as disagreements go, this was not epic.
"I didn't question Georgie; I questioned myself," Burnett said in his own attempt to put this issue in the rearview mirror.
There won't be much residual noise coming from this direction, either.
Things are sufficiently at ease here that the managerial interview session could include a tutorial from Girardi on the fine art of catching/receiving; a catcher developing to the point where he frames as many pitches as possible to make them look like strikes and blocks as many pitches as is humanly possible.
"It's a feeling of feeling comfortable and soft back there where you're not stabbing at balls," Girardi said. "We call it being 'quiet' where there's not a lot of movement."
Ah, quiet. It is quiet here, both figuratively and literally. Girardi said he would be happy when the position players reported and the noise level in the clubhouse increased. This is the kind of noise with which the Yankees are comfortable. Aside from that, the controversy level is right next to invisible this spring with the Bronx Bombers. This is different, but not a big deal, because both the talent level and the expectations are right where they are supposed to be.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.