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Joe's decisions dwindle but some remain

Joe Girardi's roster is taking form, but all of his pieces aren't in place just yet. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are about twice as many days left in spring training -- nine -- as there are roster decisions left for Joe Girardi to make.

And every last one of them concerns his pitching staff. He has one call to make in his starting rotation -- and probably four in his bullpen. And that's it.

His outfield is full -- Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano and Jacoby Ellsbury are set.

Same goes for his infield: Derek Jeter, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Mark Teixeira, backed up by Brendan Ryan, and Eduardo Nunez. Brian McCann is the catcher, and barring a trade, Francisco Cervelli is the backup.

That leaves room for 12 pitchers, seven of whom are guaranteed jobs: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton.

The competition concerns for those last five spots, one in the starting rotation and four in the bullpen.

And the outcome of those competitions may go a long way toward determining whether the $438 million investment the Yankees made in new players this winter brings success or disappointment.

I am assuming that last rotation spot is going to Michael Pineda, despite David Phelps' solid performance -- six innings, four hits, two earned runs -- against the Red Sox on Thursday night. Pineda simply has a higher ceiling -- he was projected as a front of the rotation starter when the Yankees traded for him before shoulder surgery -- and unfortunately for Phelps, he is viewed by the organization as a guy who can work equally well as a starter or out of the bullpen. He suffers from the curse of versatility.

So most of Girardi's, and Brian Cashman's, work is done here. It is only the bullpen where there are still pieces to be shuffled and decisions to be made.

We know two things for sure: ninth innings will be very different, and David Robertson will pitch them.

Everything else is up for grabs.

The Yankees have hopes that Kelley, a strikeout pitcher, will be able to move into Robertson's old job as the setup man. But as Girardi said before Thursday's game, he probably is headed into the regular season without a dedicated eighth-inning guy, and he's hoping someone will pitch his way into the role over the early weeks of the season.

The Yankees signed Thornton to fill the role vacated when Boone Logan left as a free agent, but he has not had a good spring and it is unclear whether Girardi trusts him enough to use him against right-handed hitters, although his career splits are about the same against righties and lefties.

Dellin Betances has successfully reinvented himself as a reliever and has an excellent shot to make the club as a situational righty coming off a spring in which he has so far given up only one run and four hits over 9-2/3 innings, striking out eight and walking four. So, too, has Cesar Cabral, another lefty who has thrown eight scoreless innings and given up only two hits. He, too, would be a situational reliever generally brought in to face a single lefty.

Either Phelps or Adam Warren, and quite possibly both, will make the team as relievers, with Warren probably filling the role he did last year as the long man. An interesting possibility is that Vidal Nuno, a close also-ran in the No. 5 starter competition, will be brought north in place of Cabral because of his ability to retire both righties and lefties. But it is just as likely he will be sent down to Triple-A to keep him stretched out in the event the Yankees need an emergency starter.

If I had to make a call right now, I'd say the starting rotation will be Sabathia, Kuroda, Tanaka, Nova and Pineda, with Robertson, Kelley, Thornton, Betances, Phelps, Warren and Nuno in the bullpen.

But there are still nine days to go, and eight games left to play. A lot of things can change in that time, and a lot of decisions that had seemed like no-brainers a week earlier can become mind-benders as Opening Day approaches.

Yes, it seems as if fewer decisions face Girardi and Cashman as spring training draws to a close this year. But the ones that remain, minor so they may seem, could play a major role in the success or failure of the 2014 Yankees.