- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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NEW YORK -- New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman sat at the news conference microphone and made his case for why the team didn't make a single move by Sunday's trade deadline for the first time since 1998. It just didn't sound like the sort of speech a Yankees GM makes.
Whatever happened to Yankees credos like "Win now" and "Whatever it takes"?
So far, Cashman's answer in 2011 has been this: Of the eight teams that would've qualified for the playoffs had the season ended Sunday, the Yankees were the only club that added nothing -- not a situational reliever, not another bat off the bench, let alone the top-shelf starting pitcher that they've been looking for since Cliff Lee eluded them twice in the past year.
"Am I concerned? No, not really," a weary-looking Cashman said.
But it should worry Cashman. It has to.
There's no way to sugarcoat the fact the Yankees came away from the trade deadline disappointed. Cashman repeatedly said that he likes this Yankees club as is. But he has to say that.
He even stuck to that story after he was reminded of his spring-training remark that the Boston Red Sox looked like the better team. So what does he think now that Boston has continued to improve while the Yanks stood pat?
On Sunday, Boston added Seattle left-hander Erik Bedard as insurance for its rotation to go with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the two offseason additions Cashman complimented the Red Sox for landing in February. Meanwhile, the Yankees' "big" announcements after their 4-2 win over Baltimore were the promotion of hotshot pitching prospect Manny Banuelos to Triple-A and that the team had decided, at least for the short term, to go to a six-man starting rotation.
Or are you yearning for the old days, when George Steinbrenner would've thrown his stapler through a plate-glass window if the Yankees didn't do something?
Back in spring training, Cashman looked at the Red Sox and said, "I have more work to do. ... What I do have is going to compete for the title. Can I make it better? I can make it better. But when you look at me straight-faced in the eye and say, 'What did you think about the Red Sox's winter, and where does that put them compared to you?' I think they're the hunted and we're the hunter.
"I give myself an incomplete."
Nothing has changed appreciably since then. Boston has been every bit the powerhouse that people predicted. But what also has to concern the Yanks -- besides their 1-8 mark against Boston so far -- is the other contenders they're competing against all got better in the past week, too. The Texas Rangers added two relievers, Mike Davis and Koji Uehara. The defending champion San Francisco Giants added Carlos Beltran and Orlando Cabrera. The Phillies got All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence to fill the hole left by Jayson Werth. Even Cleveland added a piece, rolling the dice on Ubaldo Jimenez. And all of those teams already had better starting pitching than the Yanks.
It's hard to rip Cashman for not moving heaven and earth at the last second to get any kind of additional starter in a market in which Jimenez, Bedard (just off the DL) and Doug Fister, who has a good ERA despite managing only three wins this year, were the only starters of any note to switch teams.
But it's the other 11 months and 29 days before Sunday's deadline that Cashman may come to regret. And as much as nobody wants to hear it anymore, the Yanks' failure to get Lee continues to haunt them for a second straight season.
The Yankees still look like they'll have to outsmart other teams to make a serious postseason run, which is the same formula that failed them last year. The rebounds the Yankees were hoping to get from starting pitchers A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes have instead come from reclamation projects Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. But can they hold up?
Cashman has again had to make a hard choice between hoarding prospects and not mortgaging the future. But the same reason he's holding onto all those young players -- the Yanks are an aging team -- is what's leaving the Yanks in a lurch now. Can a team that is still built around 41-year-old Mariano Rivera, 36-year-old Alex Rodriguez, 37-year-old Derek Jeter and 31-year-old relative youngster Mark Teixeira afford to wait for prospects to deliver? Or will Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia look at each other two seasons from now and say, "Man, our window to win it all again shut fast."
Those are pertinent concerns. Which lead us to another un-Yankee-like truth Cashman couldn't admit Sunday: If the Yankees aren't good enough this year, then they're going to have to accept they're just not good enough. This season -- like last season -- may be one of those years they simply can't hang with Boston, Texas and the rest. And they don't need to go and cough up a bunch of prospects to confirm what the first 100 games of this season suggest: The 2011 Yanks remain a brittle, and somewhat oddly constructed team.
What Cashman did say Sunday was, "We're going to do things differently here the past few years than we did maybe in other years. We're going to win as a team now. We're going to rely on our organizational depth."
Crossing your fingers, sitting tight, hoping things just work out creates bigger risks than the Yankees are usually willing to tolerate. It means hoping that a bunch of huge "ifs" come home between now and October, and Cashman spent a lot of time ticking those things off Sunday in the absence of having anything big to announce. He kept mentioning all the young talent in the system, and how Ivan Nova and Hughes are insurance policies should Garcia or Colon fade. He suggested Banuelos could be this year's Joba Chamberlain, a rookie sensation who comes from nowhere to mow down hitters in the playoffs.
But outside of Nova continuing to pitch better than Hughes, it's hard to count on any of that, which is something Cashman also acknowledged way back in spring training.
"I like what we've got coming," Cashman said. "Is it ready or not yet for an American League pennant race? We're going to find out and weigh that against what's available over time."
Time's up. "Win now" just became "Win how?" for the 2011 Yankees.