David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
After they beat out the Orioles last season to win the AL East and then bounced them from the playoffs, who knew the Yankees would end up using Baltimore's 2012 blueprint to regain the top spot in the division a year later?
The roster-flipping of general manager Dan Duquette, combined with the bench jockeying of Buck Showalter, was a major reason the Orioles were able to make a surprising run at the franchise's first division crown since 1997. But even though this year's success is nothing new for the Yankees, when they arrive in Baltimore today for a three-game series, folks at Camden Yards won't recognize much beyond the uniforms, CC Sabathia and Robinson Cano.
That's because Brian Cashman already has made 34 roster moves since Opening Day, the latest coming late Friday night when he acquired lefthanded-hitting Reid Brignac, who had been designated for assignment by the Rockies.
Brignac was in Sunday's lineup to face the Blue Jays' R.A. Dickey before the game was postponed because of rain, but it's unknown if Cashman had anything else up his sleeve before Monday night's first pitch.
With Cashman shoveling him new talent as fast as the equipment staff can sew on uniform numbers, Girardi has used 35 players through 42 games, with Brignac on the brink of becoming No. 36. With the way things are around the Yankees these days, it's best not to count him until he actually takes the field.
It certainly is different without Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to pencil in on a regular basis. Or even Kevin Youkilis or Francisco Cervelli, for that matter. But Cashman, who finally is walking without an orthopedic boot himself, shrugs off the suggestion that he's any busier than usual trying to keep the Yankees atop the AL East.
"Obviously, there's more transactions," Cashman said. "But the job on the front office's end is always try to find the best players, whether it's small upgrades or big upgrades. We're having to do a lot of mixing and matching because of the injury issues, but other than that, it's the same job."
Yet Cashman has never seen anything quite like this since he took over for Bob Watson in 1998, an especially charmed year in what has been a fairly profitable era for the Yankees.
Just last week, the Yankees put starting shortstop Eduardo Nunez on the disabled list on Sunday, welcomed back Granderson after a 10-week rehab for a fractured forearm on Tuesday and put Andy Pettitte on the DL on Friday.
But you don't see anyone with the Yankees fretting about the game of musical lockers going on in the clubhouse. Utility infielder David Adams spent two days in there without even having a nameplate, and some of the players are so new to each other -- and the majors -- that they have no idea whom their neighbors are.
Almost seven weeks into the season, the Yankees have had five players make their big-league debuts: Adams, Preston Claiborne, Corban Joseph, Brett Marshall and Vidal Nuno. It's the first time that's happened this quickly since 1995, when the team called up Jeter, Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Brian Boehringer and Jeff Patterson.
The Yankees did pretty well with that group. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be a Jeter or Rivera among this 2013 crop of newbies. But it's early, and in the roster- shuffling to this point, Girardi may have found a keeper for the rotation in David Phelps. Beyond that, the Yankees have learned not to look too far ahead.
With none of Tampa's DL crew doing much more than playing T-ball at the moment, it's not even worth discussing the fates of fill-ins such as Lyle Overbay, who was acquired to be a spot-holder for Teixeira and instead has made everyone forget the $180-million first baseman.
Hal Steinbrenner still may be writing those big checks, but it's the players collecting relative pocket change who are nudging the Yankees ahead of the charging Orioles for a second consecutive season.
How long will Cashman need to keep this up? Baltimore used 52 players last season, with Duquette needing 178 roster moves to stay on pace with the Yankees and win the wild card.
Cashman has that same view. As many as it takes.