David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
After Tuesday's trade for Chase Headley, we're now trying to figure out what Brian Cashman still needs to do to win the American League East.
And, in a loosely related matter, what the smarter course of action might be for the next two months.
Though it might be easier for Cashman to skim the cream off the top of the Yankees' farm system in a deal for another starter, or maybe help Ruben Amaro trim $40 million from the Phillies' bloated payroll by taking on Cliff Lee, does either option really make sense from the general manager's standpoint?
What's the endgame here? A damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead mission to secure a do-or-die wild-card playoff that might not even take place at Yankee Stadium? We're not talking about a roster that's one shiny piece away from beating the A's or Angels or Tigers for a trip to the World Series. These Yankees are a banged-up, inconsistent bunch that is somehow staying afloat in a bog of AL East mediocrity.
And really, that's fine. No one expected the Yankees to be in this spot when the season began, but after the rotation was crippled by injuries, there's nothing wrong with re-evaluating the situation.
So Cashman missed out on selling the farm for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel as the A's did earlier this month. What first looked like a failed opportunity may have been a blessing in disguise when Masahiro Tanaka went down with a partial elbow tear -- driving home the point that the Yankees aren't all that close to a championship, anyway.
The postseason? Sure. And Cashman's recent moves, as modest as they may be, reflect that more prudent approach. By operating on the fringe, and taking advantage of teams hoping to shed a few million bucks, Cashman made the Yankees better with the deal for Headley, and before that, the July 6 swap for Brandon McCarthy.
In both cases, Cashman got something for virtually nothing, and aren't those the best trades? For Vidal Nuño, and roughly $3 million, the Yankees secured McCarthy, who has a 1.42 ERA in two starts with 12 strikeouts and one walk in 12 2/3 innings. McCarthy talked the other day like he was relishing the clean slate.
We'll see about Headley. The whole herniated disc thing is worrisome, even if his performance this past month (.298/.330/.405) suggests that his June 20 epidural shot is working, as Cashman prefers to believe. When buying low, however, there is always the chance you're getting a damaged product. "Once he had that epidural, it seems like it's had a huge impact," Cashman said. "We noticed that his hit [velocities] have really jumped and obviously his success at the plate has jumped. I personally think that epidural really did the trick."
Headley is worth the gamble. Yangervis Solarte's comet-like run was clearly over and Rafael De Paula, the other trade chip, was a Class A starter with a 4.15 ERA. The Padres received about $3 million in payroll relief by moving Headley, who will now be the Yankees' everyday third baseman.
So that's two fairly significant parts for what amounts to roster filler and pocket change in the Bronx. Frankly, McCarthy and Headley is all the 2014 Yankees deserve. This group has a chance to be good, but hardly great, in a season where good can still get a team to October.
If Cashman has as many coveted prospects as he claims, standing pat wouldn't be the worst thing. That young talent could come in handy when the Yankees start shopping for Derek Jeter's replacement during the winter -- and reloading for 2015.
"We've got high-end stuff that other teams like," Cashman said. "And those players would be available under the right circumstances. We're going to keep trying to find ways to improve this club to get it where it needs to be, which is qualifying for the playoffs. I got more work to do."
Cashman has done it the right way so far, the smart way. That could still get him to the playoffs. If not, at least he tried. There are bigger regrets.