A season of uncertainty faces Yankees
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Rain was drenching the Bright House Field turf late Tuesday morning when the Yankees arrived for their Spring Training game against the Phillies.
The Yankees had waited until the last minute to make the 45-minute trip to Clearwater from Tampa, sensing the game might be rained out. There was even a tornado watch for the area until 3 p.m. ET
Normally, when the Yankees come to Clearwater, it's a special day on the Phillies' Grapefruit League schedule. The park is almost always sold out, the sun usually shines and in short, it's a happening.
Once, in 2011, Roy Halladay faced the Yankees early in the spring. The buildup was second only to a regular-season game.
Blame some of it on the rain, but the usual hoopla and electricity attached to the Yankees coming to town was missing Tuesday.
The rain did stop and the game was played. The Phillies came from behind to win, 4-3, but the ballpark was far from sold out.
There's enormous uncertainty surrounding this Yankees team.
I mentioned this to manager Joe Girardi an hour before the first pitch, and he was hesitant to agree.
"There are some spots that are open," Girardi said. "There's competition to fill [Curtis Granderson's] spot, competition for the fifth spot in the rotation -- and really some competition in our bullpen as well."
After a short pause, he added: "I like our club. I think our pitching is going to be really good. We brought some important guys back; we have Andy Pettitte for a whole year and all that's good."
The Yankees have failed to play in the postseason only once since 1995.
They won the tough American League East last year, but with a torrid winter of wheeling and dealing, the Toronto Blue Jays are seen as a major threat to the Yankees. Tampa Bay and Baltimore are sure to contend.
This could be Girardi's most challenging season as the Yankees' skipper. In his first five years, his teams won the division title three times.
"I still love it," he said. "Only time will tell if it's going to be tougher. The competition is very good, but that's why we compete in sports. We love it."
When Granderson sustained a fractured forearm after being hit by a pitch in his first at-bat this spring Sunday, the Yankees' offense was greatly weakened. He's hit 84 homers the past two seasons and will be lost for over two months.
"The good thing is if there's a bright side, it happened early," said Girardi. "Five of the weeks he's going to miss are Spring Training."
But when you think of the Yankees as we've come to know them, they're different this year, and that was the general feeling Tuesday.
Relief ace Mariano Rivera is coming back from the right knee injury he sustained last May, which required surgery. He's been throwing batting practice. Girardi says, "He looks good to me, like he isn't missing a beat. I've seen him throw some live batting practices, his command is outstanding and his ball is moving. He looks good."
It's not a full-fledged edict, but managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner wants the Yankees' 2013 payroll to be under $189 million. That would keep the franchise from paying severe luxury-tax penalties. The Yankees were hit with an $18.9 million tax bill after the '12 season.
General manager Brian Cashman insists the $189 million ceiling isn't affecting the way he operated during the offseason.
Regardless, the Yankees' lone additions during the offseason were infielder Kevin Youkilis and designated hitter Travis Hafner.
They lost much of their power with Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez leaving via free agency.
Now, with Granderson out and third baseman Alex Rodriguez not expected back until the second half of the season at best, they're without seven power hitters.
"I'm confident we'll find a way to score runs," Girardi said.
Tuesday, David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain each pitched scoreless innings of relief, which pleased Girardi, as did Ichiro Suzuki's three singles.
But shortstop Derek Jeter is recovering from the ankle injury sustained in last year's playoffs, CC Sabathia has been nursing an elbow, Phil Hughes a back.
But these are still the Yankees.
If George Steinbrenner were alive, he'd have pulled the trigger on a replacement for Granderson by now and filled in any other holes he saw.
This is a different era and a different Yankees team. And the approach is different.
"There's more open competition, and that's good for a club," Girardi said. "It's good for guys to have the chance to shine. I like some of the young kids we have in camp; they might be helping us at some point."
Maybe the Yankees will remain on top in their division, or maybe they'll take a tumble.
The bottom line? Whether Girardi agrees or not, this is a season of uncertainty.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.