Yankees Hit Tampa on Sunday

Pitchers and catchers report to work this weekend

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    Hughes is one of the players to watch as the Yankees convene for spring training.

    With Linsanity sucking up every available bit of oxygen in the sports universe, it has been easy to ignore the fact that we are drawing ever closer to the return of baseball.

    Ignore it no longer. The Yankees get back to work on Sunday when pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for the start of spring training, a milestone that means it won't be long before we get to reorient ourselves to the sights and sounds of the diamond.

    There's some business to attend to before the Yankees actually show up to work, namely the final details of the trade sending A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh. The teams hope to send the deal to the commissioner for approval on Friday -- a necessity given how much of the salary the Yankees are picking up -- and that's expected to be just a formality.

    That leads us to the first of our questions to ponder as the Yankees gather to start their preparation for the 2012 season.

    Who will be the new scapegoat? Burnett's departure will leave a big void for those who like to always have a punching bag for their anger about the Yankees, the economy, marital troubles or anything else that makes them cross during the season. There's always A-Rod, although everyone should be plenty tired of going to that well, so let's think a little harder.

    On the mound, Phil Hughes' latest attempt to live up to his advance billing should make him a pretty healthy target for scorn. Mark Teixeira's annual postseason disappearances could also lead to a hangover that makes him unpopular if he gets off to another one of his slow starts this year.

    Who will be the fifth starter? Speaking of Hughes, he and Freddy Garcia figure to provide one of the few roster battles we'll see in Tampa. The Yankees probably want Hughes to win the job, but it might be hard for the erratic two-pitch righty to outperform a veteran whose lower upside is mitigated by the lack of Hughes' downside.

    What's the deal at DH? We learned this week that the Yankees want to add a lefty bat since they wanted to deal Burnett to the Angels for a second go-round with Bobby Abreu, a deal scuttled by Burnett's desire to stay in the Eastern half of the country. Eric Chavez has been talked about, as has Raul Ibanez, but it is interesting that Johnny Damon is still on the market and likely willing to make some financial concessions if he wants to keep playing. 

    Will Robinson Cano hit third? He certainly should and last year's late shuffle bodes well for a permanent change to the batting order. A better question could be whether or not A-Rod remains the cleanup hitter.

    What's the biggest question mark? Michael Pineda's rookie season was excellent, but he did show some wear and tear as the year went on. Moving from Seattle, home to a cavernous ballpark and little in the way of expectations, to the short porch and long expectations of Yankee Stadium will certainly be something to watch.

    The Yankees will be fine even if Pineda doesn't turn into one of the league's best pitchers. If he does raise his game, it is hard to imagine the Yankees not winding up at the top of the American League.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.