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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees have plenty of bargaining chips, and they’re not afraid to use them

Brandon Drury is hit by a pitch

Brandon Drury is hit by a pitch thrown by Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Yonny Chirinos in fifth inning on Tuesday. Credit: AP / Mike Carlson

On paper, the Yankees’ package for J.A. Happ doesn’t look too favorable on Brian Cashman’s side of the ledger. Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney — a pair of major league-quality, controllable position players — for a two-month rental of Happ, a No. 3 1⁄2 starter who comes to the Bronx with a 7.41 ERA this month.

Seems like a lot, and it was.

If you’re the 29 other teams. Just not for the Yankees.

No wonder Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins finally acquiesced to Cashman’s last, best offer for Happ. And when Cashman spoke before Thursday’s game, he gave the obligatory nod to how much talent the Yankees surrendered in the deal.

“It doesn’t come without a cost,” Cashman said. “Thankfully we’re in a position to be in a buyer’s position, and with that you have to push some chips in the middle of the table if you want to play the game.”

That conjures up the image of the Yankees’ GM sitting at a green felt table, with tall stacks of even more chips rising high above his head. And what he tossed at the Jays barely felt like a dent.

Cashman traded for Drury at the start of spring training as a hedge against the uncertain timetable of youngsters Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. He was concerned about Andujar’s glove at third base and figured Torres had to knock some rust off after time missed because of Tommy John surgery.

Well, those fears turned out to be unfounded. Nearly two months after that trade, Drury became obsolete as Andujar and Torres got an early start on their Rookie of the Year resumes. It was doubly unfortunate for Drury that he was derailed by severe migraine issues and blurred vision — a medical mystery that he never disclosed to the Diamondbacks and had eluded the Yankees’ pretrade reports.

Fortunately, Drury’s vision cleared up, but he never rose above an insurance policy for the Yankees, who kept him stashed at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for all but 18 games this season. It was little consolation that Cashman and Aaron Boone repeatedly described him as a major-leaguer stuck in the minors, where he wasn’t accruing valuable service time, either.

What Drury ultimately became was the perfect trade chip — coveted by everyone else but the Yankees — and he even hinted Thursday that he secretly hoped to be dealt. In evaluating Drury’s true cost, however, it’s better to look at the two players Cashman traded for him in February: righthander Taylor Widener and second baseman Nick Solak, two players currently at Double-A. Widener has a 2.75 ERA with an 11.6 K/9 in 19 starts and Solak — now in the Rays’ system — has 19 homers with an .805 OPS in 96 games.

Maybe those two develop into contributing pieces for Arizona and Tampa Bay, but for the Yankees, they were expendables among Cashman’s giant stacks. Same goes for McKinney, who you may remember played two March games at Rogers Centre before crashing into the wall and suffering a shoulder sprain. Go back even further, and the Yankees got McKinney in the Cubs’ four-player package sent to the Bronx for Aroldis Chapman (Torres and Adam Warren were the headliners).

Players like these are currency for the Yankees as the trade deadline approaches. They enable Cashman to avoid the names he doesn’t want to deal, whether it be Justus Sheffield or Estevan Florial or any others in the ever-rotating top 20. Cashman sent a solid trio of pitchers to his good buddy Dan Duquette in Baltimore for Zach Britton, including No. 9 prospect Dillon Tate (acquired in the 2016 Carlos Beltran swap). Again, that’s a big haul for a rental, but it’s all relative, and the Yankees still are using chips from a fire sale that happened two years ago.

“There’s no doubt that our pro department, our analytics department, our amateur scouting departments have all allowed us to grow a nice list of attractive names,” Cashman said. “The only reason we were able to pull off [these] deals is because we were able to trump other organizations.”

Cashman also mentioned how the Yankees “navigated to stay away from certain guys,” and that’s a credit to the system’s depth. It’s not only about producing future stars such as Andujar and Torres and Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Collecting those stacks is another way the Yankees flex their considerable muscle.

“They’re there for eventual use at the major-league level,” Cashman said, “or eventual utilization to import players.”

Just another form of currency for the Yankees, who seem to have an endless supply.

New York Sports