That said, the Yankees were perplexed when Gardner did not attempt a stolen base between June 12 and Aug. 11, finishing the year with just five steals in the second half. He'd stolen 15 bases in 18 attempts prior to that point, and manager Joe Girardi said Gardner still had the green light to run.
"Part of it is he wasn't on nearly as much the second half, and teams pay attention to him obviously a lot," Girardi said. "But that's something that probably needs to be addressed, because we need that out of him."
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It was revealed late in the year that Gardner was playing banged up, and though he never really provided specifics, injuries seem to be a likely cause. As for the bunting, that storyline has been a staple of every spring for a few years, but I actually sense that his bunting has improved.
There was a game against the Phillies last June where Gardner dropped two bunt hits as part of a four-hit game. That's just one example out of a long season, but when he's firing on all cylinders, Gardner has been a much more complete player than he was when we were writing those stories in 2010 or '11.
Is Brian Cashman still on the lookout for another starting pitcher? They could use some insurance for the rotation.
-- Tom T., Bozeman, Mont.
Yes, that's a refrain we'll probably be hearing into Spring Training and potentially into the season. The Yankees are well aware of the reasons why they should be concerned -- no pitcher on their roster completed 170 innings last year or made 30 starts -- but it has taken longer to find a trade match than Cashman would have liked.
Cashman joked back at the Winter Meetings that pitching coach Larry Rothschild was going to be giving him coal for Christmas, and even though adding Aroldis Chapman improved the bullpen, the rotation still appears shaky. Cashman's recent comment that "our rotation is full" is true, in that they could start camp today with seven arms to compete for five spots, but an upgrade is still very much on the table.
Could the Yankees use both Andrew Miller and Chapman as closers, assuring they stay rested, then find another setup man to go with Dellin Betances?
-- Phil C., Bostic, N.C.
A few teams have experimented with co-closers over the years, and the Yankees even considered trying it with Betances and Miller before quietly shifting the job toward Miller in the final weeks of camp. Girardi said often in explaining that move that relievers are creatures of habit and seem more comfortable when they know they will be asked to pitch a set inning, rather than having an assignment that moves around.
Especially since Chapman and Miller are both left-handed -- part of the appeal in the Betances-Miller tandem was that Girardi could have picked his closer based on matchup, even though they are effective against hitters from both sides -- the Yanks will probably pick one man for the ninth inning. That could be complicated, of course, if Chapman has to serve a suspension for his alleged domestic violence incident back in October.
If Greg Bird starts the year in Triple-A, who would be the backup first baseman?
-- Todd C., Staten Island, N.Y.
In the event that Bird begins 2016 in the Minors -- and the Yankees say that he will, as long as Teixeira comes through Spring Training healthy -- my best guess is that you'll hear Girardi talking a lot about using Dustin Ackley in a super-utility role now that Starlin Castro is locked in as the everyday second baseman.
Ackley has only played 22 games at first base in the big leagues, including four with the Yanks last year, but they'll try to get him some at-bats against right-handed pitching. You'll probably see Chase Headley and McCann make the occasional cameo at first base, while Girardi said that he would prefer to keep Alex Rodriguez as a full-time designated hitter.