MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

For Yankees, drama-free is the new normal

For Yankees, drama-free is the new normal

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ho-hum.

The Yankees are beginning another Spring Training and the atmosphere in this camp is about as normal as it gets around the Pinstripes. It's devoid of strife, agitation or commotion.

When I walked into the clubhouse Thursday morning at Steinbrenner Field, it was so calm that I wondered if I'd made a wrong turn.

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There were no questions about whether Alex Rodriguez would be able to return after missing all of the 2014 season, or how he'd handle the non-stop questioning about his long suspension.

And no one on Thursday was dwelling on what the Yankees and 2015 would be like without Derek Jeter, who had retired.

A year ago, those were the issues that made covering the Yanks always an adventure -- a new season, more headlines.

Now the page has turned to 2016.

"It is a pretty regular Spring Training," manager Joe Girardi said later in the morning as he met with the media. "I hope that doesn't mean it'll be a boring Spring Training … but it is pretty regular."

Girardi joked that was evident because it took the mob of reporters so long to ask him the first question during the scrum.

But not so fast.

This is the Yankees, and even though pitchers and catchers were reporting for Day 1, before long, the first issue of the spring was already in full bloom.

Aroldis Chapman, obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in a Dec. 28 trade, faces the possibility of suspension from Major League Baseball. That stems from an Oct. 30 incident in Miami with his girlfriend, who told police he pushed and choked her.

Florida authorities did not charge Chapman, 27, because of insufficient evidence. However, MLB, which has a new domestic violence policy, may suspend the flame-throwing reliever who grew up in Cuba. MLB has investigated the incident, but is yet to announce a decision.

Girardi has already named Chapman, who has 145 saves over the past four seasons, his closer. A possible suspension at the start of the season would force a change in those plans.

Outlook: Chapman, RP, NYY

Chapman, through an interpreter, told reporters during a brief clubhouse exchange that he would appeal an MLB suspension.

Girardi believes it's hypothetical to predict what's going to happen.

"I think it's a good thing Major League Baseball and the Players Association got together and came up with a domestic violence policy," he said. "It's a sensitive issue. Domestic violence is something we don't condone.

"We have to be sensitive, too. My job is to get the most out of my players -- on the field and, in a sense, off the field as well. That's really important to me the way our players handle themselves off the field. To me, the most important thing is that they are good people. If they have issues off the field, sometimes it affects them on the field."

When the 51-year Girardi, who's entering his eighth season as the Yanks' skipper, says it is a regular Spring Training, that's because his lineup is virtually set. There are question marks about his rotation and whether his aging players can hold up physically.

And if Rodriguez, who turns 41 in July, can duplicate his unexpected 2015 comeback when he played in 151 games -- his most since 2007 -- and drove in 86 runs with 33 homers. More importantly, their designated hitter was controversy-free the entire season. Even his most severe critics agreed he handled the difficult situation and the suspension admirably.

Outlook: Rodriguez, 3B, NYY

The thing about the Yankees is they are no longer favored to win the American League East.

Their late owner, George Steinbrenner, always termed any season the Yanks weren't in the World Series a failure.

The last championship, their 27th, was in 2009. After failing to make the postseason in 2013 and '14, they made it last October as an AL Wild Card team.

But in that one-game match with Houston, the Yankees were ousted, 3-0, as Dallas Keuchel baffled them, allowing just three singles over six innings.

Girardi insists that with the additions of young second baseman Starlin Castro and Chapman, "we will be better than we were last year. On paper, we are better, but paper doesn't mean anything until you go out and compete."

Girardi lauds moves, believes Yanks are deeper

Regardless, in most preseason predictions, these Yanks are picked for no better than third place.

"Our goal is to win the World Series, the bottom line. That's why we come to Spring Training," said Girardi. "I appreciate how hard our guys played all last year, how they never gave up. But you know what? We didn't get to where we wanted. We lost the first round of the playoffs. We got beat by a very good pitcher we didn't seem to solve.

"Know what? We're probably going to see him Opening Day [against Houston at Yankee Stadium on April 4]."

The Yankees were in first place alone as late as Aug. 2, but slipped to second as eventual winner Toronto got hot and streaked to its first title since 1993.

For Girardi, who says losing in the first round was excruciating, 2015 might have been his best year as a manager. He was constantly juggling his lineup, often using youngsters up from the Minors to fill in for injured veterans. That the Yanks ended with 87 wins is a testament to Girardi.

Now, it's another season -- more regular than usual for the Yankees, which in itself is big news.

Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.