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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees didn't have chips to be a major player in wheeling and dealing

General manager Brian Cashman of the Yankees speaks

General manager Brian Cashman of the Yankees speaks to the media after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays was postponed due to rain. (July 8, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

BOSTON - The A's added one of the game's most reliable October aces in Jon Lester. The Tigers countered with David Price, inserting the Rays' franchise pitcher -- and the 2012 Cy Young winner -- into a rotation that already boasts Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello.

The Yankees? Well, let's just say they did what they could.

Brian Cashman went a different route on Deadline Day, staying with the solid but unspectacular blueprint of incremental upgrades for a team that seems bound for little more than a wild-card playoff game, if that.

But just getting to the dance would have to be considered a victory of sorts for these Yankees, who were unable to secure another front-line starter for their mix-and-match rotation. Cashman could only watch Thursday as Lester, Price and even John Lackey were shipped to other contending teams. He also had missed out on Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who were snatched up by the A's weeks before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

This time around, the Yankees were hurt by geography -- no way were the Red Sox or Rays delivering their star pitchers to the Bronx -- and Cashman just didn't have the prospect package to convince the Cubs to turn down the A's offer of stud shortstop Addison Russell weeks ago.

After the Yankees won the offseason by spending nearly $500 million on pricey free agents, they didn't have the chips to be a major player at this time of year -- and didn't feel like giving up what they were holding on to.

So what they got Thursday were a few minor improvements: Martin Prado for rightfield and Stephen Drew at second base. Like their other deals in July, for Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley and Chris Capuano, the cost was minimal. The Yankees sent Double-A slugger Peter O'Brien to the Diamondbacks for Prado and grabbed Drew for Kelly Johnson, currently on the DL.

"I think we're going to compete," Cashman said. "I think we're improved, but again, we're going to find out if it's enough or not."

The focus now is on managing expectations. You won't hear the Yankees talk about the World Series these days. Not the way they have for most of the past two decades. A top-heavy roster again has been punctured by key injuries After spending big during the offseason to build a contender, the Yankees are like the QE2 with too many leaks -- and Cashman is trying to patch them with bubble gum.

The Yankees traded for Drew to replace an ineffective Brian Roberts despite the small detail that Drew has never played second base at the major-league level. The fact that the Yankees even were interested in Drew seemed to catch Red Sox GM Ben Cherington by surprise. After all, the two ancient rivals hadn't made a deal with each other since 1997, when the Red Sox sent Randy Brown and Mike Stanley to the Bronx for Tony Armas Jr. and Jim Mecir.

"We hope it helps them," Cherington said of the Drew deal.

Really? In terms of this rivalry, Alex Rodriguez can't get back soon enough. But the Red Sox were so focused on the future Thursday that they didn't seem to care whom they were helping out. The Sox not only shipped Drew to the Yankees but sent lefty reliever Andrew Miller to the Orioles, unabashedly aiding two combatants within the division.

For this season, it hardly matters. Cherington determined a week ago that "the math was against us'' and that the proper course was to cut bait.

So after winning the World Series in 2013, Cherington now has a rooting interest in a number of teams chasing a ring as he looks to the offseason to reload. The way he talked about that plan Thursday, it made you realize how quickly everything can fall apart. And how much simpler it sounded to give up for a year as everyone else fights to get to October.

"We made a series of trades that we believe give us a good head start on hopefully building towards a very good team as quickly as possible," Cherington said.

The Red Sox are over for now. But the A's and Tigers are well-positioned to take their place. As for the Yankees, they're better -- but not nearly good enough.

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