Commentary

Yankees' deals all smoke and mirrors

Yanks underwhelmed and underscored a fault in the front-office thinking Thursday

Updated: August 1, 2014, 5:18 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- On a thunderclap-filled trade deadline day when their American League rivals, Boston and Tampa Bay, faced reality and gave up on this season with a series of bold moves, and the World Series-or-Bust Oakland A's and Detroit Tigers began a top this/take that! arms race that could decide the postseason, the Yankees wound up looking like a team that badly needs an infusion of fresh thinking, not just fresh talent, after their cap-gun moves.

The Yanks were neither big-game buyers nor break-the-mold sellers Thursday.

They could neither bring themselves to give up on the playoff race like Tampa -- a hotter team -- did, nor could they swallow hard and show the daring vision that Boston, which won the World Series just a half season ago, did by unsentimentally trading ace Jon Lester and John Lackey, two anchors of their starting rotation, as well as Jonny Gomes and reliever Andrew Miller. And the Red Sox did that though they play before a fan base every bit as impatient as the Yankees' followers.

The Yankees were also not in on the big surprise that AL West leader Oakland sprang by trading their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, for Lester -- only to see Detroit answer by prying former Cy Young Award winner David Price away from Tampa in a three-team deal in which the Tigers sent starting center-fielder Austin Jackson to Seattle.

It was extraordinary to watch. Next to all that, the two late-developing moves that Yanks general manager Brian Cashman made with less than an hour to go before the 4 p.m. deadline were underwhelming.

Worse, each Yanks move was necessitated by the domino effects of a constellation of other bad choices -- namely, the Yanks' same old pattern of signing aging vets to go with the long-term contracts they're already locked into, and then regretting it when said older vets break down or underperform, as so many on this year's roster have. Expect more bench time for Ichiro Suzuki and Carlos Beltran, who will still DH most days but isn't likely to play outfield until his elbow improves. Alfonso Soriano was released weeks ago.

[+] EnlargeTORONTO, CANADA - JULY 21: Stephen Drew #23 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by Mike Carp #37 after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 21, 2014 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, O
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThe Yanks made a small splash Thursday before the deadline, picking up Stephen Drew and Martin Prado.

What Cashman's deals essentially told manager Joe Girardi is he'll have to keep trying to win with smoke and mirrors 'til further notice.

Cashman sent disappointing Kelly Johnson to Boston for shortstop Stephen Drew, a free agent the Yankees and everyone else could've signed well past this season's start, but didn't.

He also sent minor league infielder Peter O'Brien and cash to Arizona for Martin Prado, who is hitting .270 with 42 RBIs in 106 games this season. The two of them will join Chase Headley and pitcher Brandon McCarthy, whom Cashman also obtained in recent days.

But look: After watching the Red Sox's ability to pull in a talent like Cespedes for Lester, it was hard not to feel dissatisfied with a lot of things about the Yankees kingdom. Starting with how the Yanks are still haunted by their inability to swallow hard and trade Robinson Cano in the 2013 offseason or at last year's trading deadline for proven talent or hotshot prospects if they had no intention on paying him what the open market could bring. Which they didn't.

The Red Sox made the same determination on Lester. But instead of standing pat, they went ahead and flipped him for Cespedes, who is precisely the sort of corner outfielder with power the Yanks badly need.

Oakland was willing to move Cespedes because he's a free agent after the 2015 season and they won't be able to afford him; Boston retains payroll flexibility and gets a All-Star caliber outfielder who can contribute big now. And if Lester, as promised, doesn't rule out re-signing with Boston when he becomes a free agent this winter, even though the club low-balled him in contract talks thus far, Boston will have pulled off an extraordinary coup by having the guts to pull the trigger on the deal. It's a risk with a potential double reward.

But the Yanks? Both Johnson and second baseman Brian Roberts, who will be released, were disappointments this year.

And both Drew and Prado arrive with asterisks.

Drew has never played anywhere except shortstop, and he was already having a dreadful offensive season hitting .176 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in Boston. Now, on top of that, the Yanks will be asking him to change positions, too. The carrot they'll dangle is if he's a good fit, maybe they'll re-sign him to succeed Derek Jeter next year. (Of course, that presumes Troy Tulowitzki doesn't roll back into the Stadium on another Rockies' off day, fly out of the box seats and bump Drew into the photographer's pit first.)

Prado can play second and third base, where he made the majority of his starts this season. But now that the Yanks have Headley, Prado will instead be asked to be, uh, the Yanks' starting right fielder?

This though he's played a total of just two innings there in his career.

At least Prado has started 231 games in left field. And he gives the Yanks another right-handed bat, which they can use. But power? Nope. He has only five home runs in 106 games.

See what I mean? Underwhelming.

Girardi and the players the Yanks still have deserve a lot of credit for doing as well as they have this year, especially after losing four-fifths of the starting pitching rotation.

But the Yanks' front office? Not so much.

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