- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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NEW YORK -- After the latest little self-inflicted plot twists that arrived Saturday, it's worth asking who the New York Yankees are right now. Forget who they used to be. Forget who they don't have. Forget they just traded for 37-year-old Alfonso Soriano when they didn't want the 27-year-old version.
Are they a team that can't shake its old habits of adding bold-face names no matter what stage of their career they're in? Are they a team that wants to protect and build its farm system like AL East leader Tampa Bay, which beat them for a second straight day Saturday? Are they a team at war with its highest-paid player, Alex Rodriguez? (Well, yes.) But is general manager Brian Cashman now irked at his own bosses, too? Sure seems that way, based on a story in Saturday's New York Post.
And all of that was swirling around the team even before Yanks manager Joe Girardi sat down for his pregame talk with reporters and confirmed that, yes, Derek Jeter would be playing a simulated game later in the day. But there was a "but."
"We're not going to disclose where it's at," Girardi said.
The Yanks can hold Jeter's simulated game in an airplane hangar at LaGuardia and paint the windows black, if they want. After the game, Girardi admitted it happened at their Staten Island affiliate's ballpark.
But since when do the Yankees consider a trifle like a simulated game a top-secret, black-ops event? And since when is Jeter -- a man who has nearly two decades of experience weathering the mean streets and even meaner tabloids of this big, bad city -- such a delicate piece of crystal that he needed to be protected from reporters who might be waiting for him outside the stadium? And for what? To merely ask him if he remained on track to rejoin the Yankees for Sunday's series finale against Tampa Bay, which he's indeed now expected to do?
No, no. Can't have that.
Honestly, it's hard to know who the Yankees are right now.
Their lack of offense in their 1-0 loss to the streaking Rays at the Stadium did look familiar. The Yanks didn't get their first hit off Chris Archer until the fifth inning, and managed only two hits all day to squander an eight-strikeout, seven-inning performance by Ivan Nova.
It's tempting to say the Bronx Zoo is on the way back. But those Billy Martin-Reggie Jackson teams at least had a little swagger and compensating comic relief swirling around them on the way to winning the World Series.
This year will bring nothing like that. This Yankees team has been decimated by injuries, dumbfounded about what's wrong with shell-shocked ace CC Sabathia and destabilized by a series of events that got more bizarre by the day this past week. That was before Travis Hafner went out Saturday with a strained rotator cuff, their 17th player to hit the DL.
A-Rod isn't the only one who's behaving oddly.
The way Cashman distanced himself from the trade that brought Soriano here Friday was by far the most fascinating insight into where the mood of the Yanks' front office and ownership is right now.
If you recall, Cashman never wanted to re-up with Rodriguez in the first place when he opted out of his contract after the 2007 season. Cashman never wanted to bring Ichiro back on a two-year deal this year or let the Pirates (of all people) outbid the Yanks for Russell Martin. Cashman never wanted closer Rafael Soriano as expensive insurance behind Mariano Rivera in 2010, but was again overruled in a move that even Cashman had to admit turned out well when Rivera got hurt and Soriano starred in his place.
And now, just weeks after controversially telling A-Rod to "Shut the [expletive] up" about his injuries, Cashman told the Post's Joel Sherman that he didn't recommend the Alfonso Soriano trade, either, but he was again vetoed.
The move did look petulant from the moment it was made. Last weekend, the Yanks dropped two out of three to the Red Sox and didn't hit a home run in a series at Fenway Park for the first time since 1995 and -- what do you know? -- five days later, Soriano and his 17 homers showed up here, with the Cubs agreeing to take New York's pitching prospect Corey Black and eat a ton of salary just to get rid of Soriano before his contract expires next season.
But it's not as if being vetoed is a new sensation for Cashman after all those years he spent working for The Boss.
And yet this time, rather than just toe the company line and absorb the PR hit for ownership like GMs do all the time, Cashman served up owner Hal Steinbrenner for calling the shot that gave away -- we repeat -- Corey Black. Who no one is confusing as the second coming of Matt Harvey.
You mad, bro?
"I would say we are in a desperate time," Cashman told the Post. "Ownership wants to go for it. I didn't want to give up a young arm. But I understand the desperate need we have for offense. And Soriano will help us. The bottom line is this guy makes us better. ... This is what Hal wants, and this is why we are doing it."
In the old days it would've been easy to just shrug at the Soriano move and say, "So?" If the Yankees wanted to take a midseason flyer on the man, same as they did countless late-career sluggers over the years, fine. Everyone knew George Steinbrenner was impetuous. It was his money. And if it didn't work out, he would just spend more money to spackle over the mistake.
Those days are supposedly over. So it's easy to understand why Cashman might be frustrated being ignored, then having to clean up messes like the A-Rod disaster later. But venting it the way he has been the past couple years now is another thing altogether.
When Cashman consolidated his power in the organization eight years ago as The Boss was receding from sight, the organization's Age of Bombast was supposedly going to give way to an Age of Enlightenment. Cashman gave Joe Torre a nudge out the door and chose the bookish Girardi instead. Sabermetrics would be even more in play day-to-day. Cool reason was going to prevail. The Yanks would recommit to having some homegrown stars, too.
Or at least that was the stated plan.
But now in these "desperate" times, Hal wants this, Cashman wants that, and team president Randy Levine is a wild-card decision-maker, too.
It's hard to know who the Yanks are right now.
But when it comes to the front office and ownership, words like "frayed" and "fed up" come rushing to mind. This team is heading nowhere, and making a hell of a lot of noise as it goes.
A-Rod isn't the only one behaving oddly for Yanks franchise going nowhere fast.