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Sunday, July 24, 2011
Updated: July 28, 2:29 PM ET
Yanks can't stand pat at trade deadline

By Johnette Howard
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Funny as it sounds, it wasn't the quality of Bartolo Colon's start but, rather, the sight of old Bronx favorite Hideki Matsui roughing up New York Yankees pitching Sunday for the third straight day on this homestand that stirred up a reminder of why it's impossible to believe the Yankees will be standing pat by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Forget that. They can't stand pat.

Something Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said way back when he won the heated competition to land Matsui in 2003, and then appeared at the mega-news conference to welcome the Japanese slugger to New York, still holds true today. After shrugging off round after round of congratulations for pulling off the deal, Cashman said: "We like to think of ourselves as big-game hunters around here."

Bartolo Colon
Bartolo Colon, now 38, is years removed from his Cy Young days. So when he's one of your best starters, you need an upgrade.

A lot has changed about the Yankees since then. But that remains the same.

The idea of Cashman rolling the dice with this club as presently constructed -- especially the makeup of its pitching staff -- just isn't in the Yankees' DNA. And Colon's strong performance in the Yankees' 7-5 win over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday changes nothing.

The Yankees' ability to accurately project what to expect the rest of the way from Colon -- or Phil Hughes, or A.J. Burnett or Freddy Garcia, for that matter -- won't be improved in the dwindling days between now and the trade deadline. And why should they feel relaxed when even the 38-year-old Colon smiled and admitted after coughing up just two runs in seven innings Sunday, "Me? I've been surprised [at how well his season has gone] since spring training."

The Yankees have never been the sort of franchise that just crosses its fingers and hopes for the best. They never try to eke by with smoke and mirrors. Their history is they'd rather stockpile an embarrassment of riches, a redundancy of talent, a boatload of boldface names and big salaries no matter whom it offends or how excessive/neurotic/gluttonous it seems. They're the Kings of Overkill. They do it because they can. And because it works for them.

So when you combine the Yanks' long-running M.O. with the way fellow American League contenders Boston and Texas are winning right now -- it's not just how much, it's also how -- it's hard to see the Yankees feeling comfortable about a postseason rotation that features CC Sabathia and whoever has the hot hand come September. If any of the other starters do.

Even if the Yanks went to a three-man rotation in the postseason as they did in 2009, and you had to pick two names other than Sabathia right now, whom do you trust?

It's natural to think that guy isn't here yet.

Cashman's comment the other day that he always has Ivan Nova sitting down in Triple-A, should everyone behind Sabathia continue to wobble and dip, was hardly convincing. Since mid-May, the Red Sox -- even with the injuries to their starting rotation -- have been playing .712 ball and are on a 100-win pace. Both the Red Sox's and Rangers' starters are better than the Yanks', and both clubs hit at least as well as the Yanks do, too. It only looks worse for the Yanks when you think the Phillies' three-ace rotation could be waiting beyond the AL contenders.

So the only way Cashman does nothing by the trade deadline is if doing something is simply impossible. Which is also hard to see.

Cashman keeps floating the idea that whatever he conjures up probably won't be a blockbuster and it might not come from the usual or wished-for places. Pittsburgh and Cleveland are both surprise contenders. Seattle which hits town Monday night, is riding a 15-game losing streak, and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik was still saying as late as Saturday that All-Star pitcher Felix Hernandez, whom the Yankees like, is "untouchable." Given Cashman's public irritation with Zduriencik after he thought the Yanks and M's had a deal for Cliff Lee last year, would Zduriencik do the Yankees any favors now, even with his club nose-diving?

For all the talk about what a pleasant surprise Colon is -- and right now he's the second-best starter on the Yanks' staff -- Sunday's win still only raised his record to 7-6. It was his first win this late in the season since 2005, which also has to shiver your timbers a bit. The same goes for the news that rehabbing setup man Rafael Soriano had another rocky outing Sunday, giving up a home run to the first batter he faced.

Soriano will be back at some point. The Yanks expect Eric Chavez to return soon, too, to provide another bat off the bench and some veteran backup behind Alex Rodriguez whenever A-Rod returns from meniscus surgery.

But is even the Yanks' offense good enough to carry them deep into October or early November? The fact the question is even being asked is your answer. Get ready to welcome the Yanks' new guys, an unbroken trade-deadline tradition under Cashman since 2003. Six of those seven years, he's waited 'til the absolute last day to make a deal.

Hoping for the best works in other contending towns like Pittsburgh or St. Louis.

But "stand pat" just doesn't cut it around here.