David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees aren't used to getting sympathy. That's what happens with rich folks. But it takes an especially cold heart not to feel a tiny bit sorry for Brian Cashman, who is having a rough July.
As soon as Cashman patched his tattered rotation by pulling off the July 6 trade for the Diamondbacks' Brandon McCarthy, a righthander with bounce-back potential, he lost Masahiro Tanaka -- possibly for the season -- because of a partial UCL tear in his right elbow.
Add McCarthy, subtract Tanaka. That's some terrible arithmetic for a team clawing to stay in contention.
The Yankees already were in the market for another front-end starter before Tanaka went down. And now? With two weeks left before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, opposing general managers can smell desperation. Cashman is past the point of tipping his hand. But will blowing up cellphones around the league ultimately result in a deal for an ace-type pitcher in this environment?
"I'm not in prediction mode,'' Cashman said Thursday during a telephone interview. "Bottom line, we'll see what we have to show for these efforts. It took a month and a half to get McCarthy, so . . . ''
Cashman didn't complete that thought, but we got the idea. Trading for a Tanaka replacement is not going to be easy. And despite the possibility that he will return in six weeks, the Yankees really can't afford to look at the situation that way.
Even with the current plan of putting off Tommy John surgery in the hope that rehab and platelet-rich plasma injections will do the trick, Tanaka is very much a long shot to be a productive member of the rotation in 2014.
In the best-case scenario, he makes it back for September. But would he be the same dominating pitcher? That's impossible to answer, and no one is thinking that far ahead.
Tanaka spent the All-Star break getting a PRP shot and working with the training staff at Yankee Stadium. "We'll see how the rehab goes,'' Cashman said. "If we have a problem anywhere in between, they'll adjust what they're doing.'' It's always possible that Tanaka will opt for Tommy John surgery at some point along this timeline.
In publicly apologizing for the injury, Tanaka made it sound as if he is determined to pitch again this year. But what if the Yankees fall out of contention? Could that change his mind regarding the surgery?
The Yankees don't intend to have that as part of the equation, but filling that hole is going to be a daunting challenge.
At the break, the Yankees' beat-up rotation ranked eighth with a 4.00 ERA, above the AL East-leading Orioles, who were 11th (4.09), but no higher than any other serious contender.
If Tanaka's Cy Young-caliber numbers are removed, that ERA jumps to 4.45. Only the Rangers (5.20), Twins (4.86) and Indians (4.49) would be worse.
There are few pitchers available who could be dropped in to maintain -- let alone improve -- what the Yankees' rotation did in the first half to mitigate the losses of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, who made a total of 16 starts.
One would be Cliff Lee, who had a 3.18 ERA in 10 starts for the Phillies before landing on the disabled list May 20 with an elbow strain. Lee is expected to make one more rehab start and seems to be a perfect fit for the Yankees, who would rather take advantage of a salary dump than burn top prospects.
Including what's left this season, Lee is due roughly $43 million through 2015 -- counting a buyout of his '16 option. The Yankees probably would be amenable to that, with Sabathia's knee issues possibly career-threatening, Hiroki Kuroda likely done after this season and Tanaka's status uncertain.
As for the youngsters, Shane Greene was impressive in the first two starts of his career last week, but does he become a trade chip for a bigger fish?
Cashman sounds as if he's still sorting things out. "The pitching has been surprisingly good considering what's happened,'' he said. "But I do think, where we're sitting after the Tanaka injury, it's in our best interests to try to find more pitching if we can.''
Cashman will come up with something. But after what the Yankees have sustained so far, it might not be enough.