David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees didn't get Michael Young before yesterday's non-waiver trade deadline. But the Red Sox added Jake Peavy, the Orioles swapped for Bud Norris and the division-leading Rays fortified their bullpen by acquiring Jesse Crain.
Did those moves demolish the Yankees' chances of defending their American League East title? Not necessarily. Any hope of that had begun to fade well before the deadline came and went.
And there's no point in pretending otherwise. Brian Cashman actually landed the biggest impact bat to change addresses this month in Alfonso Soriano, a move the GM insists was hustled through by ownership. But it still feels like the Yankees need so much more, and the primary reason is their 81/2-game deficit in the division before last night's series finale against the Dodgers.
Let's face it. The odds of all three teams ahead of the Yankees doing face-plants over the next two months are pretty slim. Even at full strength a year ago -- or at least a heck of a lot stronger than they are now -- the Yankees barely held off the Orioles to win the AL East.
That's one reason why Cashman currently has the wild card on his mind. The Yankees entered last night with 31/2 games to make up just to get into that one-game elimination playoff round, with the Orioles, Indians and Rangers all ahead of them for the second spot.
"You have to walk before you can run," Cashman said on a post-deadline call with reporters. "And right now, obviously we're closer to the wild card than the division. I didn't say we can't win the division. But right now, if somebody says 81/2, I'll say 31/2."
Definitely sounds better. But it takes a bit of an attitude adjustment for a franchise that has won the AL East title 13 times in the last 17 seasons. Cashman has plenty of built-in excuses for that not happening this year, based on the staggering number of injuries, and surely believed there was no point in overpaying at the deadline for only a puncher's chance at October this season.
Would Young have helped? No doubt. But it's like the Yankees have been held hostage by the shadowy status of Alex Rodriguez, who is expected to be suspended by the end of this week. Even as Major League Baseball prepares to drop the hammer, Cashman talked as if he would be adding Rodriguez in the very near future, quite possibly in time for Monday's series opener in Chicago.
Under one scenario, that could happen, should A-Rod be allowed to appeal his suspension and remain active in the meantime. But it seems weird trying to picture Rodriguez back in a Yankees' uniform with the increasing animosity -- much of it very public -- between him and the front office during the past few weeks. After all that, Cashman still calmly laid out the plans for A-Rod's return, like he was just another injured player who would soon jump on a plane and rejoin the team.
"That's correct," Cashman said. "Absolutely."
Of course, it won't be quite that easy. A more reasonable post-deadline acquisition for the Yankees will be Curtis Granderson, who is scheduled to be back in the lineup for Friday's series opener in San Diego. Granderson adds the type of slugging presence that wasn't readily available via trade, but rust is likely to be a factor considering that he's played in only eight games between two DL stints for broken bones.Though Young would have been a quick patch as a potential replacement for Rodriguez and a platoon option for Lyle Overbay at first base, the Yankees are in the process of adding Soriano, Granderson, Derek Jeter and Jayson Nix over an eight-day span (we're not ready to pencil in Rodriguez just yet). That may not create the same one-day sizzle as a deadline trade, but it should be a significant boost.
The problem is playing catch-up, and chasing the rest of the AL East could be even more difficult now. Cashman gave a "no comment" when asked about the other trades within the division but wasn't about to concede anything on the last day of July.
"We'll see," he said. "Some moves improve teams, some moves don't work out. Time will tell."