The Yankees strengthened their offense and defense on Thursday by acquiring Stephen Drew from the Red Sox for Kelly Johnson and getting Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks for Peter O'Brien and a player to be named later.
But the biggest impact for the Yankees may have been made by other teams -- namely the Athletics and Tigers.
The Yankees enter Friday five games behind the American League East-leading Orioles and 3.5 games behind Toronto for the second wild card. Of the Yankees' remaining 55 games, 27 come against teams with a record under .500. But, 18 of those games will be played against the Red Sox and Rays, typically tough assignments no matter their records.
The Red Sox improved their offense on Thursday, trading for Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig. But the offensive improvements were made with an eye on competing in 2015, and to acquire those pieces the Sox had to surrender pitchers Jon Lester and John Lackey. Earlier in the month, Boston also traded starters Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy.
That means the current Red Sox rotation is Clay Buchholz, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo. Buchholz is a veteran but is having an awful year (5.87 ERA). Ranaudo has yet to pitch in the majors, but will start against the Yankees on Friday. De La Rosa, Workman and Webster have combined for 261.2 innings in their entire careers.
In short: Those guys should be a lot easier to deal with than Lackey, Lester and Peavy.
The Rays, too, traded their ace, David Price, to the Tigers. The Yankees will face the Tigers seven times, but those games were expected to be tough anyway considering the Tigers' daunting pitching staff even without Price. When facing the under .500 Rays, however, the Yankees will now draw the far easier assignment of Drew Smyly.
The Yankees won't face the Athletics the rest of the regular season, meaning no more at-bats against Lester.
The Blue Jays didn't make a trade on Thursday, which also helps the Yankees. The Orioles, rumored to have been in on Lester, ultimately settled for lefty reliever Andrew Miller. Neither club got significantly better.
It would have been a good trade deadline for the Yankees even if they didn't acquire Drew and Prado.