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Inbox: Why is A-Rod's surgery not until January?

The Winter Meetings are officially in the rear-view mirror, and even though the Yankees did not complete a transaction during their stay in Nashville, Tenn., general manager Brian Cashman boarded his flight home with optimism that the groundwork has been set for moves to come.

The Yanks still have holiday shopping to complete, though there's some time: as Cashman pointed out, there are no games to play this month, and they've had some success plucking free agents from the January and February crops. Here's a look at some of the questions you're asking this week:

If the doctors found Alex Rodriguez's hip problem last month, why is surgery not until mid-January?
-- Chip S., Hampton, Va.

In a perfect world, Rodriguez and the Yankees probably could have moved a little faster on that issue, but they were tied up by seeking a second opinion and now with the "prehab" that Rodriguez was prescribed: several weeks of physical therapy on Rodriguez's left hip to strengthen the area before surgery.

It's somewhat similar to what Mariano Rivera was instructed to do with his knee, though Rivera's situation was further complicated by the discovery of a blood clot. Rivera suffered the injury on May 4 and didn't have surgery until June 13.

"We obviously wanted to take it step by step [with Rodriguez]," Cashman said. "It was important to us to get a second opinion and get an evaluation, comparative and have conference calls with all the doctors involved and talk through all the options, to make certain that we're going to be doing the right thing here."

Do you think Austin Romine can handle the starting catcher position in 2013?
-- Griffin C., Virginia Beach, Va.

It is possible; the Yanks would love if Romine shows up at Spring Training and tears the cover off the ball to force their decision. As it stands right now, they see Romine on the outside looking in, with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart slightly ahead in what promises to be an open competition.

Romine's lack of experience at the Triple-A level hurts his chances somewhat, and on paper, he's ticketed to begin the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but that's written in very light pencil. It's not out of the question that Romine could make the jump if he hits a little bit and calls a solid game.

Would the Yankees consider moving Brett Gardner to center field, Curtis Granderson to right and signing a left fielder?
-- Luke K., Hawthorne, N.J.

Yes, Cashman floated that possibility in Nashville, saying that one of his priorities is to find a corner outfielder -- not necessarily a starting right fielder. There have been indications that the Yankees are seriously considering moving Gardner to center field this season, though no final decisions have been made.

With A-Rod's injury, why not start Derek Jeter at third base and put Eduardo Nunez at shortstop?
-- Reza V., Vestal, N.Y.

You're not the first person to bring that idea up, but every time, it has been quickly swatted away by team officials. They expect Jeter will be healthy and ready to go as their Opening Day shortstop; besides, even if the Yankees saw logic in the move, dislodging the captain from his position is just a headache they don't need right now.

The bigger question, then, is what role -- if any -- will Nunez play on the 2013 roster? Having scrapped the experiment to play him at other positions, the Yanks are sticking to the idea of using him solely as a shortstop. If they whiff on acquiring a third baseman (Kevin Youkilis?), maybe they could revisit the idea of playing Nunez there, but at this time, it seems more likely that he's being dangled as trade bait.

The first three spots in the starting rotation now seem set with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. Do you see the fourth spot in the rotation being Phil Hughes' to lose?
-- Jim H., St. Catharine's, Ontario, Canada

That seems fair to say. Hughes has had his ups and downs, but he has done enough that the Yankees should feel confident with him as their fourth starter. That sets up Ivan Nova and David Phelps to battle for the fifth spot this spring, with more depth acquisitions possible between now and then.

Will the Yankees have the same coaching staff next season?
-- Ron C., West Belmar, N.J.

Yes, manager Joe Girardi confirmed that all of his coaches -- Mike Harkey, Mick Kelleher, Kevin Long, Tony Pena, Larry Rothschild and Rob Thomson -- have been re-signed.

Any updates on Michael Pineda?
-- Tyler N., Massapequa, N.Y.

He's throwing on flat ground, and under a best-case scenario, the Yankees are hoping that Pineda could help them at the Major League level as early as June. At this point, however, they have to proceed as though they aren't counting on him. If Pineda can come back healthy and contribute at the big league level this year, they would have to consider that a bonus, considering the potentially devastating nature of the injury he suffered.

How much of the $189 million payroll goal for 2014 is already accounted for?
-- Lee J., Liverpool, England

For luxury tax purposes, it's the average annual value of the contract that counts, so the Yankees have $74.4 million already on the books with A-Rod ($27.5 million), Sabathia ($24.4 million) and Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million). There's also an $8 million player option that Jeter could trigger, so we can figure the Yanks project to have roughly $100 million left to build the '14 team.

New York Yankees, Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Alex Rodriguez, Austin Romine, Chris Stewart