David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
It's not a matter of if but when for Brian Cashman, who said before Wednesday night's 7-3 win over the Blue Jays that he anticipates pulling off a trade to improve the Yankees in some fashion, at some point, in the coming weeks.
"I feel we need to get better from within, and I could help speed up the process if I run into something outside at the same time," Cashman said. "We usually make moves every year, so I expect to make moves again."
The GM chose his words carefully in evaluating the team's performance so far. There was no finger-pointing. Not by name anyway. And Cashman refused to say how a 36-33 record measured up to what the Yankees had in mind heading into this season.
So we'll say it for Cashman. You don't spend nearly $500 million during the winter to be a second-place team hovering around .500 in a mediocre AL East. And while a flurry of injuries to the rotation has forced the Yankees to lean on some stopgap replacements, Cashman also cited "underperforming" players for the team's plight.
"Unless we're the last team standing, we're never satisfied," Cashman said. "And we're not in first place right now, so no one's satisfied with that. We've got more work to do."
The GM's job is to identify the areas of concern and see what he can do to remedy that -- armed with what Cashman believes to be a pocketful of desirable trading chips. A good place to start would be the rotation as the Yankees have no hard timetable for the returns of either CC Sabathia or Michael Pineda.
Cashman even went as far as to suggest Wednesday that Sabathia may not be ready until early August -- the first time the Yankees have mentioned he could take that long. As for Pineda, that month remains the best-case scenario.
"The fact that they're down, I don't want to wait if something makes sense," Cashman said. The one caveat? "The sooner you move, the higher the price is typically," he added.
One of the stopgaps, Chase Whitley, allowed two runs in five innings Wednesday night and lowered the rotation's ERA to 3.96, which is ninth in the American League. But if you remove Masahiro Tanaka, it jumps to 4.34. The Yankees waited until Wednesday to announce Vidal Nuño's next start, which will be Saturday against the Orioles. But another pounding such as the one Nuño got in Oakland and we're likely to see Adam Warren in that spot soon.
Or maybe an external candidate, eventually. Jeff Samardzija reportedly turned down a five-year offer this week from the Cubs, believed to be in the $85 million range, and Chicago may soon be resigned to dealing him. Teammate Jason Hammel also is expected to be on the market, as is David Price -- but the Rays aren't trading Price within the division.
In the past two seasons, Cashman has landed Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano by absorbing a big chunk of salary as part of those packages. That's been part of the Yankees' business model because it's only money after all -- and young talent is a more valuable commodity for the long haul. This year, Cashman believes he has the prospects to entice rebuilding teams looking for a package of players.
Offensive catchers like Gary Sanchez and the recently demoted John Ryan Murphy surely come up in the conversations that Cashman said he's already been having with other clubs. Second baseman Rob Refsnyder, who was hitting .342/.385/.548 at Double-A Trenton, jumped to Triple-A Scranton last week. Converted first baseman Peter O'Brien has 23 homers in 67 games this season split between Tampa and Trenton.
"Everybody's making their phone calls," Cashman said. "There are some big players that are available, but the price tags are going to be extremely high. There might be smaller pieces that can pay big dividends for teams."
Parity won't help matters. With lots of teams in the race for a playoff spot, there will be more competition for a small pool of available players.
The other complication is parity. As of Wednesday, 19 teams were within three games of a playoff spot and 25 were no further than six games behind. With more clubs in the race, the fewer will be ready to wave the white flag, which increases competition for the smaller pool of available players.
"We'll either get it done," Cashman said, "or we'll go down swinging trying."