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Inbox: What are the options at third besides A-Rod?

Yankees beat reporter Bryan Hoch responds to fans' questions

Yes, it is alarming to keep seeing these New York forecasts with lows in the single digits, but maybe it will help to be reminded that Spring Training is indeed just around the corner: Yankees pitchers and catchers report on Valentine's Day. Until then, let's take another crack at the Yankees Inbox:

What are the Yankees' options at third base in 2014, other than Alex Rodriguez?
-- Trent R., Wake Forest, N.C.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer yet. Independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz could render his decision on Rodriguez's appeal any day now, and unless Rodriguez's suspension is completely wiped out (something that doesn't seem likely, given the stormy way his hearings concluded in early December), the Yankees will need to have someone else slotted in at third base for at least part of the season.

You can make a solid case that the Opening Day third baseman may not be on the roster at this moment. It has been reported that the Yankees have shown interest in free agents Mark Reynolds and Michael Young -- not that either of those options knocks you out defensively, but they're still out there. General manager Brian Cashman has said that he wants to make sure that the Yankees have protection they are comfortable with at third base so they will "not be in the position that we were in last year."

Kelly Johnson is on the roster and has a little experience playing third base, but not much: he has just 16 big league games under his belt at the position, and they all came last season with the Rays. Manager Joe Girardi said he's comfortable playing Johnson at second or third bases, and you can speculate that a Reynolds-Johnson platoon could make sense. Brendan Ryan may see a few innings at third base, but the Yankees will probably need his defense more to back up Derek Jeter at shortstop.

The Yankees still have to figure out what the plan is for Eduardo Nunez, a player they've tried at third base with inconsistent results. They also recently brought Russ Canzler back to the organization a Minor League deal, and Canzler wields a history of thumping left-handed pitching in the Minors. Dean Anna, an infielder they acquired from the Padres in November, also has swung a big bat in the Minors. There should be more clarity on the third-base situation by the end of January.

I would like to see the Yankees bring in a closer for one year while David Robertson gets his feet wet. Is this a possibility?
-- Sharon Y., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Acquiring another closer is still in play, as we heard that the Yankees checked back in on Grant Balfour after his deal with the Orioles fell through. There's still some bullpen help out there on the market, and Robertson is continuing to say that nothing has been promised to him as far as taking over as Mariano Rivera's successor. That's the right way to handle it, since the Yankees aren't sure about what they'll do.

Cashman said rather bluntly that he is "not sure if Robertson is capable yet," and a very small sample size (8-for-18 in save opportunities) backs that up. Robertson does believe he's up to the task, he just needs another chance. As far as Robertson getting his feet wet, it really should be now or never. He'll be eligible for free agency after the season, and if the Yankees don't give Robertson a chance to close this year, some other team likely will in 2015.

Will having Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda on the team help sign Masahiro Tanaka?
-- Eddie C., Queens, N.Y.

The Yankees have proudly talked about their standing as an global brand, and it goes beyond Kuroda and Ichiro; Hideki Matsui certainly did plenty to spread awareness of the interlocking 'NY' throughout Japan during his career. There was also a photo circulating recently of Tanaka meeting Matsui back at the old Yankee Stadium in 2006, when the Japanese high school All-Star team was touring the United States.

All that is to say it's a nice thought, and maybe there is some level of comfort that could come with that. New York City could be a draw as well, but as we've seen many times, the bottom line usually comes down to dollars and cents. The Yankees seem prepared to write a big check to Tanaka and his agent, Casey Close, but the organization with the biggest bid will probably come away with the player.

Do the Yankees have a backup plan if they were to have the same amount of injuries this year as they did in 2013?
-- Christian, Dover, Del.

Some things are impossible to prepare for. Girardi joked earlier this offseason that they would need a 60-man roster to be ready for a similar onslaught of injuries, but obviously that's not going to happen. The 56 players they used in 2013 set a new franchise record, running alphabetically from David Adams to Mike Zagurski. You could say the backup plan is to cross their fingers and hope that never happens again.

Are the Yankees looking to downsize the role of Derek Jeter as their full-time shortstop with more DH time than usual?
-- Nick E., Williamsburg, Va.

Girardi has talked about needing to carefully manage Jeter, as no one wants a recurrence of last year's nightmare. In 2012, Jeter's last full season, he started 133 games at shortstop and DHed 25 times. Since the Yankees don't plan on having a full-time DH and need to spread around those duties to some of their other players, it's possible Jeter could see more full days off over a 162-game schedule, especially with Ryan on the roster as a top-flight defender.

Why do teams fly out on the same night as getaway games instead of sleeping at that city and flying out early the next morning?
-- Wallace F., Parsippany, N.J.

There are some exceptions with the travel schedule, but there's something to be said for getting into a new city with some daylight still burning, checking into the hotel and grabbing a nice dinner. Those hours are precious within a grueling schedule; you tend to hear a lot less grumbling from the players than, say, the afternoon following a Sunday night game in Boston.

The team charter sometimes carries less than 100 percent of the roster anyway. By total coincidence, I was once seated directly behind Mariano Rivera for my six-hour United flight from Newark to Seattle; Rivera often tried to spend the night with his family, as long as he could meet the rest of the team by grabbing a seat on the first commercial flight out. I believe he recorded the save that night, too.

What happened to Tyler Austin in the Arizona Fall League? He only had 12 at-bats.
-- Paul T., Flushing, N.Y.

Austin -- the Yankees' No. 3 prospect, according to -- was pulled out of the Fall League due to discomfort in his right wrist, something that also cost him playing time during the season. The Yankees wanted Austin to rest the wrist to be ready for Spring Training.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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