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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

For much of 2015 team, Brian Cashman has his fingers crossed

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks to the

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks to the media before a game against the Boston Red Sox on Friday, April 11, 2014, at Yankee Stadium. Photo Credit: AP / Bill Kostroun

Brian Cashman diligently checked off two more boxes on his to-do list Friday with the trade for Didi Gregorius -- who he announced will be part of an initial shortstop platoon with Brendan Ryan -- and the $36-million signing of lefty reliever Andrew Miller, potentially the 2015 closer.

Not a bad haul three days before the start of the winter meetings, which kick off Monday in San Diego. But in sizing up the Yankees for this coming season, we really weren't all that worried about Cashman finding Derek Jeter's replacement or grabbing another power arm for the bullpen.

That's because the team's biggest concerns already are on the roster. And they can't be solved with a phone call or a few pen strokes.

Jeter did both himself and the Yankees a favor by stepping down when he did. At age 40, the first-ballot Hall of Famer scripted the perfect sendoff. Well, aside from the pre-October exit.

But there's still a long shadow hanging over these Yankees, and that's the lingering disappointment from an expensive, underachieving lineup core that -- unlike Jeter -- has plenty left to prove in pinstripes.

Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, for starters. Whether the cause was injuries or stage fright, the bottom line is that the Yankees -- after spending nearly $500 million last offseason -- had to lean on the likes of Martin Prado and Chase Headley just to tread water before missing the playoffs for a second straight year.

Then, of course, there's what to do with Alex Rodriguez, a more confounding enigma than those other three. As much as Cashman talked Friday about having more work to do in upgrading these Yankees, in reality, he's stuck hoping for bounce-back performances from the ghosts of years past.

That happens when you're into the back end of long-term contracts and dealing with players on the wrong side of 35 -- or, in Teixeira's case, just shy of it. Signing Max Scherzer or Jon Lester, then maybe bringing back David Robertson can't make Beltran 27 again or erase A-Rod's twin hip surgeries.

No wonder Cashman's priority has been run prevention, a point driven home by the acquisitions of Gregorius and Miller. Last season, the Yankees were 13th in runs scored in the American League, a trend you wouldn't expect to continue now that Beltran's elbow has been surgically cleaned up and Teixeira is another year removed from his wrist repair.

During these past two years, however, the Yankees again have taught us the value of expectations: practically zero. While Cashman spoke optimistically about the same hitters that frustrated him last season, he's learned to tread lightly with A-Rod, whose situation is beyond predicting.

And in this age of analytical projections, there's nothing a front office hates more than a virtually incalculable equation.

"The extreme hope is that you get the middle-of-the-lineup bat that can play third whenever you want,'' Cashman said. "But at the same time, you know the worst-case scenario is that he's no longer a third baseman, is not a productive bat and you're looking to find [him] places to play. I don't know where on that spectrum we're going to fall.''

Right now, entering the second week of December, Cashman has to be thinking (hoping) of A-Rod as the regular DH, with Prado as his third baseman and perhaps an internal candidate such as Rob Refsnyder getting a crack at second. Even as he plans to check out other pieces on the board at the winter meetings, fortifying the rotation has to be his chief concern.

For much of the Yankees' lineup -- excuse us for the lack of hard science here -- Cashman is going to have to rely on faith, then adjust accordingly. That's the difficult part. Friday's moves were easy by comparison.

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