We've made it to February and that long-awaited handoff from football to baseball. Yankees pitchers and catchers are less than three weeks away from being on the field in Tampa, Fla., so here is another installment of what fans have been talking about:
As of now, the Yankees are still talking about that as a "TBA" situation, as they don't feel that they have to announce a choice at this point. I suppose that's not out of character; after all, it wasn't until last January that Hal Steinbrenner spilled the beans and confirmed that David Robertson would be their 2014 closer, even though most people had already assumed that would be the case.
Recently, Joe Girardi said that he'll bring the group into Spring Training and let the situation work itself out. The Yankees believe that Betances and Miller can both have their stuff translate to getting three outs in the ninth inning, and they've both said that they'd be game for the challenge. Of course, neither one has proved it on any kind of regular basis yet -- they have one career save apiece.
One thing the Yanks do like is that Betances and Miller have shown the ability to get both lefties and righties out, as can guys such as David Carpenter and Adam Warren, so you don't necessarily have to mix and match. I'd guess that Betances will eventually be named the closer and Miller would slot in the eighth inning, but there's not really a wrong decision either way. Girardi said that his preference would be to have a closer named by the end of the spring.
"I think guys like to know their roles, so I think if we can iron it out, I think it would be a good thing to do," Girardi said. "But I think you can also create an atmosphere where you say, 'You know what, guys? I'll prepare you every day in a sense of what I think is going to happen, and here are your matchups, the guys that I'm probably going to bring you in against.'"
It seems to me that signing a starting pitcher with James Shields' mental makeup and leadership would make sense to the Yankees. Your thoughts?
-- Jim, Advance, Mo.
I try never to say never, especially when we're talking about the Yankees and free agents, but they weren't bluffing about sitting out the bidding for Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. That seems to be the case with Shields as well. The Yanks have been serious about not extending another nine-figure starting pitching contract while they wait to see how the CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka commitments work out.
Steinbrenner has said that the payroll is going to be close to where it was in 2014, and New York is bumping up against the $210 million mark already, so this seems like it is most of the roster that will be going to Spring Training. Ivan Nova could wind up being a real key to the season if he's able to come back from Tommy John surgery in the middle of the summer and pitch like he did in previous years.
I've heard the Yankees invested quite a bit on international prospects over the last year. Who are they and how they might help the club? Is Yoan Moncada a strong possibility for the Yanks to sign?
-- Steve M., New Haven, Conn.
Let's start with Moncada, who we've been talking about for a few months now and seems to be moving closer to being cleared to sign. The 19-year-old Cuban infielder is clearly on New York's radar, and he has worked out privately for the club. As we saw last year with Tanaka, this team can still wield a checkbook as a weapon if there's a player they covet.
The Yanks already exceeded their international pool base, and so they'll be in the penalty box for the next two years with bonuses capped at $300,000. That could tempt them to push hard for Moncada, since there's no limitation on what they can offer him. He has also worked out for other clubs, including the Red Sox, Dodgers and Giants, so the bidding could go into the tens of millions no matter which uniform he winds up wearing.
As for players already under contract, they spent approximately $14 million in July; according to MLB.com's rankings, that brought them nine of the top 25 available players. It's a group highlighted by 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia (for a $3.2 million signing bonus) and Dominican third baseman Nelson Gomez ($2.25 million), who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on MLB.com's list, respectively.
Some other names to know: Dominican outfielder Juan DeLeon ($2 million), Venezuelan outfielder Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5 million), Venezuelan shortstop Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35 million) and Korean shortstop Hyo-Jun Park ($1.16 million). They got their feet wet in the instructional league, but with all of these birthdays in the late 1990s, it'll take a few years for these promising position players to climb toward Yankee Stadium.
Will Alex Rodriguez be playing first base this year?
-- Mel F., New York
It's possible. Girardi has been exchanging phone calls and text messages with Rodriguez this offseason, and strapping on a first baseman's glove is something they've bounced around.
The plan is to look at Rodriguez more as a designated hitter while giving him reps at third base, but it couldn't hurt to have Rodriguez see some innings at first. You'd think he would be able to take to it easily, but you never know -- they briefly tried Alfonso Soriano there last spring and it didn't work. Garrett Jones would probably be the first choice for backup duty.
Has Michael Pineda learned how to not use foreign substances while pitching or could we see him fined again this year?
-- Paul M., Dover, N.H.
The funny thing about all of that is that, if you talk to people in the game, the complaint really wasn't that Pineda used the pine tar -- it was that he was so careless about it, forcing John Farrell to say something. Before that game, Farrell said his only hope was that Pineda would be "discreet," and slathering a huge glob on his neck was anything but.
Technically, it's against the rules, but managers don't want to complain, because their guys may be wearing gunk on their forearms, caps or jerseys, too. And it's a trade-off with which hitters are OK; whether it's pine tar or sunscreen, most would prefer that the pitcher have a good idea where that 95 mph fastball is going rather than be surprised up and in.
Pineda was embarrassed by the incident, then he came back and pitched in colder weather toward the end of the season. No one said a word then, and so whether he has stopped using the sticky stuff (as he says) or is just hiding it better, it probably won't be an issue going forward.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.