TAMPA, Fla. -- During a spring where most eyes will be focused squarely on the Yankees' starting rotation, there must also be a wary glance cast in the direction of the lineup. If only because the fourth and fifth starters are such questions -- as in, literally, who are they? -- the onus on the Yankees' hitters this year will be more pronounced. Runs, at least two days a week, will be at an increased premium.
That notion has increased the questions about what order, exactly, manager Joe Girardi is going to put his hitters in on an everyday basis this season, and Girardi has been (understandably) evasive about committing to anything. He knows there are reasonable debates to be had about several of the spots.
Saturday, when the Yankees open their spring schedule against the Phillies, every regular except Russell Martin will play, but Girardi said not to read much into that lineup.
"You have your middle-of-the-order hitters and then you have your guys who are going to be your supporting cast, and how we kind of divvy up that supporting cast remains to be seen," Girardi said. "But our lineup scored lot of runs last year -- a lot of runs last year -- and maybe we tweak it and maybe we don't."
Is it still early? Of course. Could injuries or other unexpected developments play a role? Absolutely. But even with those caveats, here's one man's attempt to figure out what Girardi's lineup card will look like on Opening Day.
1. Derek Jeter: Yeah, I know. It's hard for me to put him here, too. But Girardi has basically said that he's committed to Jeter at the top of the order to start the season though you never know what will happen later on. Could Jeter finish the year hitting seventh? He could. But knowing him, he'll start the year at the top and have such a strong bounceback from 2010 that everyone will forget what all the fuss was about in the first place. Honestly, would anyone be surprised if he hits .310 this year?
2. Nick Swisher: Sure, you could put Curtis Granderson here, but I like Swisher. He's almost 20 points higher in on-base percentage and averages 23 more walks a season than Granderson, which is important because the more the No. 2 hitter makes a pitcher work, the harder it will be for that pitcher to dig in on the big three coming up next.
3. Mark Teixeira: I know the "Robinson Cano to No. 3" campaign has picked up followers this spring, but I still like Teixeira here. As good buddy Tom Boorstein said recently, Teixeira is generally more patient than Cano, which again is important with two sluggers hitting behind him. Teixeira has also got a larger body of consistent work than Cano. The one hitch is this: If Teixeira struggles in April as he's been prone to do in the past, Girardi shouldn't hesitate to make the switch. For now, though, Teixiera gets the benefit of the doubt.
4. Alex Rodriguez: No surprise here. Will A-Rod hit 40 home runs this year? My feeling is that if he's able to play 150 games in the field (i.e. his hip allows it), then he's going to put up monster numbers. If the hip slides (and he's sitting/acting as designated hitter a lot), he could be scrambling to get 30.
5. Robinson Cano: As I said, it wouldn't surprise me to see Cano hitting higher at some point in late April if Teixeira goes cold again. Right now, though, he's still best at No. 5.
6. Jorge Posada: Strange to say, but A-Rod has a lot to do with how Posada will fare this season. If A-Rod is healthy and doesn't need DH days to rest his hip, Posada will get used to the DH routine and be productive. If he has to sit for long stretches of games because Rodriguez is DHing, things could get ugly.
7. Curtis Granderson: Against tough lefties, Granderson may sit for Andruw Jones, but since the Yankees will probably face Justin Verlander on Opening Day, I see Granderson in seventh.
8. Russell Martin: Four years ago, he had an .843 OPS; last season, it was .679. If he can get on base at a decent clip, though, he can set things up for Gardner to try to turn the lineup over.
9. Brett Gardner: Could he hit leadoff? Yes. Should he? Maybe so, but it's not like we've got 10 years of consistency from Gardner, either. He's shown great potential but needs to keep doing it. He may well be the Yankees' leadoff hitter of the future. I'm just not ready to say he is right now.