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With Alex Rodriguez banished until 2015, Yankees turn to Kelly Johnson & Co at third base

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - With Alex Rodriguez banished for a year, the New York Yankees will turn their attention to Kelly Johnson & Co. at third base.

The Yankees didn't respond at all Friday when Rodriguez gave up his legal fight and accepted his season-long suspension resulting from Major League Baseball's Biogenesis drug probe.

"It's something that seems to have been settled, and we don't have him until 2015," manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday. "We'll focus on this year this year, and we'll deal with next year next year."

Johnson played third base last season for the first time in his big league career, making 12 starts and 16 appearances. He has spent most of his career at second.

"We've got Kelly Johnson along with a cast of characters that are going to compete for that spot from the right side," general manager Brian Cashman said. "We look for it to be a platoon situation, a lefty-righty situation. We're open-minded to affordable options that might become available via trade, but realistically the answers that we will have are going to come with what's on our current roster here or at (Triple-A) Scranton."

The left-handed-hitting Johnson had a .218 average with 16 homers and 44 RBIs in 280 at-bats for Tampa Bay against right-handed pitchers last year and a .291 average with no homers and eight RBIs in 86 at-bats versus lefties.

Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan are right-handed-hitting options on the roster. Scott Sizemore, limited to two games during the last two seasons because of knee injuries, will be at spring training on a minor league contract as will Russ Canzler, who has never played third base in the major leagues.

"Hopefully, the longer Joe Girardi has a chance with his staff to run out a number of guys, the more comfortable we'll get with those options," Cashman said. "Right now, it's a question mark. I think our infield is a question mark. We've got two guys coming back from injuries, but third base is still a developing area that we certainly hope over time we'll get comfort from."

First baseman Mark Teixeira and shortstop Derek Jeter both missed nearly all of last season with injuries.

New York doesn't appear to be interested in signing free agent Stephen Drew, who would consider a move from shortstop to third, according to agent Scott Boras.

There's not much more of a drop-off in run production that the Yankees can experience at third. With Rodriguez limited to 44 games last year following hip surgery, New York third basemen were 29th in the major leagues with 52 RBIs, according to STATS.

Second base also is a puzzle following the departure of All-Star slugger Robinson Cano, who signed a $240 million, 10-year deal with Seattle. Oft-injured Brian Roberts and Ryan appear to be the leading contenders.

"In this day and age, the way things are, every team has issues, and we just have to work through them," Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "Maybe we don't have the resources down below that we need to deal with some of the issues. Maybe we do. We'll see what we've got in March."

NOTES: Jeter fielded a grounded up the middle and made a spin move to throw to first for the first time this year at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Fla. ... Sizemore worked in Jeter's hitting and fielding group. ... Following the signing of C Brian McCann, Austin Romine turned his attention to competing with Francisco Cervelli for the backup job. " I thought it was awesome. I get a chance to study and be under a guy that's been an All-Star forever. You'd be stupid not to pick his brain and learn something," Romine said. "Everybody wants to be a starting catcher. Right now, the backup job's open, so that's what you focus on."

___

AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.

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