Today the Yankees play their first spring training game of the 2016 season. This year brings a whole new crop of questions that will be, at least partially, decided during this month's slew of exhibition games, including Aaron Hicks' playing time and the performance of brand new infielder Starlin Castro, as well as the health of the starting rotation and the core of veteran players, among others. With those questions in mind, let's look back on the most prominent spring training storylines of the past several seasons.
2011 - Bartolo Colon is still hungry
After missing the entirety of 2010, a rotund version of 2005 American League Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon reported to Yankees spring training on a minor league deal, hoping to revitalize his career. The 38-year-old would have to prove he could stay healthy and throw strikes to get a shot, and he managed both with aplomb. He competed with Phil Hughes that spring, outpitching the young All-Star and Freddy Garcia, but was ultimately pushed to the bullpen. It wasn't long before Hughes went down with an injury and Colon was used to fill the hole in the rotation. Some wondered whether he was the team's best starter.
Colon proved to be an effective replacement for a disappointing Phil Hughes that season before he revitalized his career with the Athletics and the Mets. He spent 2011 and 2012 in Oakland before spending the last two years in Queens. He will earn $7.2 million in 2016, playing for the defending National League Champion Mets in his age-43 season. Never let anyone hold you back from accomplishing your dreams.
2012 - O Pineda, where art thou?
As the 2012 season opened, Yankees fans grew more and more excited to catch a glimpse of their newly acquired young starting pitcher, for whom they had given up Jesus Montero for. Michael Pineda had impressed during his debut season, finishing fifth in rookie of the year voting, but began his 2012 with diminished velocity. After showing up to camp overweight, Pineda only managed to top out at around 91 mph before he was laced on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. During his rehab stint, the 23-year-old ended up tearing the labrum in his pitching shoulder, forcing him to undergo season-ending surgery before he ever threw an official pitch for the Yankees.
Ultimately, Pineda would not contribute to the major league club until 2014, and he is now considered to be among the top pitchers in the rotation. His success in 2016 will rely heavily on his excellent command, and his ability to stay healthy, which has been a question since the Yankees acquired him.
2013 - Teixeira feels a pop; Granderson feels a crack
Early into the offseason before the 2013 season, the Yankees were forced to deal with a Mark Teixeira wrist injury that occurred while he was participating in the World Baseball Classic. Teixeira told the Yankees in early March that he felt a "pop" in his right wrist. The injury was called a "torn tendon sheath" and kept him on the disabled list into late May. Having only Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson in camp, the Yankees panicked and picked up Lyle Overbay at the very end of camp after he was released by the Red Sox. Teixeira lasted only 15 games after returning from the DL, and could not muster more than a .151 batting average. He underwent season-ending surgery in June.
During a spring training game, Curtis Granderson was plunked by J.A. Happ, breaking his forearm. Granderson, who smashed 43 homers the previous year to lead the yankees, would not be available to play for at least 10 weeks, which forced the Yankees to scramble for power in the middle of their lineup. They signed Brennan Boesch to a one-year deal on March 15th and traded two prospects for Vernon Wells two weeks later in order to patch together some outfield depth. Amazingly, Wells and Overbay would appear in 142 and 130 games respectively in 2013 with each finishing with double digit home runs.
2014 - Hello, Yangervis Solarte. So long, Eduardo Nunez.
After suffering major blows in Spring Training 2012 and 2013, the Yankees' primary storyline the following season was a positive one with the meteoric rise of Yangervis Solarte. After he was invited to spring training as a non-roster invitee, Solarte began exhibition batting 7 for 8 and showed few signs of slowing. In 24 games, Solarte managed a triple slash of .429/.489/.571 and supplanted the likes of Kelly Johnson and Nunez to start the year as the team's primary third baseman. Nunez took the news hard, but the Yankees benefitted greatly from Solarte's ability to find his place after spending eight seasons in the Twins' and Rangers' organizations. Not only did Solarte play well for the club during the regular season, but they managed to flip him in the middle of the season for Chase Headley.
2015 - How does Masahiro Tanaka's arm feel?
Last season's predominant storyline throughout spring training focused around team ace Masahiro Tanaka and the precarious anatomy of his pitching arm. After starting his MLB career with all the promise of a $155 million pitcher, Tanaka eventually slowed down and hit the disabled list on July 9, 2014 with elbow inflammation. MRI testing revealed a partial tear in Tanaka's ulnar collateral ligament and surgery was presumed to be inevitable. After consulting with multiple medical authorities, the Yankees and Tanaka opted not to go through with Tommy John surgery and instead chose rest and rehabilitation.
Entering spring 2015, Tanaka's arm was the central indicator of hope for the team. Tanaka performed well enough that he was named the team's opening day starter, but his arm troubles were not over. Ultimately, Tanaka found himself back on the disabled list in late April before returning in June and playing semi-effectively throughout the remainder of the year. His ability to keep his arm healthy remains among the most important questions the Yankees face today.
What do you think will be the team's biggest storyline in spring training 2016?