Monday, August 25, 2014

When can we take the New York Yankees seriously?

The New York Yankees are certainly an enigma. One good series, one really poor one follows and then another positive step. After a series sweep of the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees have won four in a row. Is now the time to take them seriously? Many think there is no sense in it. All is lost already. Some believe a good run can prove the team deserves a place in the discussion about the postseason. I had a brief chat about it yesterday on Twitter and now I’ll delve deeper into the subject.

The New York Yankees’ massive offseason expenditures have been discussed at length and it put them in the conversation as a team which could make some serious noise in the postseason. Injuries, poor performance and lack of consistency across the board have contributed to a lackluster season thus far. Here’s the thing; the Yankees (67-61) are still in the playoff hunt because the rest of the American League is, well, not very good.

The Yankees have gone 20-14 since the All-Star break and during this recent six-game homestand they finally climbed above the .500 mark at Yankee Stadium (33-31). The problem is they squandered two games against the lowly Houston Astros.

This is what the Yankees have done most of the season. They’ve suffered inexplicable losses to poor teams and followed them up by successful, albeit short runs of good play. It seems that for every good stretch of five, six or seven games, they slump for the same number right after it. Then they put together another respectable series and make me think they’re ready for a run. I thought it after they took three of four from the Detroit Tigers (part of a stretch of six wins in seven games), and then the Yanks proceeded to lose five straight.

When can we take the Yankees’ chances of reaching the postseason seriously?

In short, after they prove they can win consistently and dominantly for an extended period.

The Yankees have been unable to have a truly dominant string of 15-20 games, one which should place them back in the conversation as a team to watch in September (let alone October).

So, here we are in the midst of an upcoming four-game stretch against the Kansas City Royals (makeup game Monday) and then the Tigers, both ahead of the Yankees in the standings. They follow that up with three games in Toronto against the Blue Jays who are right on the Yankees’ heels.

Once again, it seems like we can look at this as a make or break stretch for the Yanks. If they take five of the next seven games that would make 11 wins out of 13 games after suffering the five-game losing streak. Further, they would finish August 17-11.

It remains to be seen if it is enough, but such a finish sets them up for a potential charge in September. The Yankees need to make up a couple games on the teams ahead of them before the end of this month, by winning, not sticking around with a mediocre pack.

If they succeed, I believe the weakness of the rest of the league would surely give the Yankees a feeling that they can reach the postseason and potentially do some damage in October. And at that point, not before, I think we can take the Yankees’ chances seriously.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New York Yankees: On team meetings, swagger and chemistry

After losing seven of their past nine games, the New York Yankees held a players (and coaches) meeting prior to Thursday’s series finale against the Houston Astros. They went out and won the game behind some dazzling pitching from Brandon McCarthy (complete game shutout allowing just four baserunners).

Can a single win be attributed to the team meeting? Hardly, especially considering it seems the position players were the ones gathering around and they still just mustered three runs.

This offense, one which was supposed to put up better than average run totals has thoroughly disappointed. The reasons are many and the likelihood that it changes quick enough to make a difference remains to be seen. Was a team meeting the spark this club needed?

Team meetings typically come at these times of despair. The players come in everyday and work hard to get better or stay on top of their game. I don’t think there is a single player in the Yankees dugout who is simply not trying. But, there is something to be said about a collection of players sitting down in an informal setting and airing it out.

Players look lethargic and degraded when they are losing more often than winning. And when a winning streak develops there is laughter and tomfoolery seen in the dugout. That’s just human nature. The Yankees have unfortunately seen more streaks of poor play than that of strong play and that’s why it looks like they do not have any fire or swagger.

We’ve yet to see a Yankees stretch where they looked completely dominant, and they might not show us one this season. When those types of wins pile up, a team takes on a certain swagger, one which symbolizes they feel they cannot be beat. Hot streaks bring about an easy-going environment, one in which new players to a team can meld with the returning crew.

This never happened for the Yankees. Yes, there is a collection of players who have been successful with other teams on this roster, but none of them have flourished with each other. Bearing in mind the mounds of injuries and the poor play, I’d argue the Yankees have not had much to rally around or time to meld as a group. And that leads us to chemistry.

Chemistry is a term often referred to in professional sports as an integral part of the success of teams. Teams with players who cannot get along, are not on the same page or do not play with the same goal in mind are doomed for failure. Well, chemistry among teammates is developed, and generally speaking it takes an event or a collection of events to be created. Whether it is a teammate to rally around or a big win streak which puts a team at the top of the division, there needs to be something other than sharing a clubhouse to bring a team together.

The team meeting might be the spark that ignites a win streak. It could begin to build a fire in the collection of all-stars in the locker room. But, it’s not a win streak alone that builds chemistry. It's also about timing. Chemistry built on a win streak that pushes aside the adversity of a rough season and propels a team into the final month of the season with a legitimate shot of reaching the playoffs sounds about right.

The Yankees still have a chance and the talent. They have 10 games remaining this month to get themselves within at least two games of the wild card (they sit four games back now). Better yet, some of these games are against competitors in their way.

If the Yankees can go on their run right now (a dominant one in which all facets of the game are clicking), they could begin to feel a swagger about them that could carry them through September and into the postseason as a hot team. It's happened plenty of times in the past; the hottest team goes into a postseason and causes problems for the rest of the participants.

Thursday’s team meeting might have been the first step. Getting hot and making up some ground quickly would be the next and could result in displays of passionate play and swagger we’ve yet to see. It would finally put all the bad circumstances behind them. They took a small step indeed, but a necessary one nonetheless. Hopefully it was not too late.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Yankees’ David Robertson hears it from boo birds

The success rate of the best closers hovers around a 90 percent conversion mark. Fifty save opportunities would equate to 45 saves. I would imagine any number of teams would sign up for such a rate.

Do closers (or other high-leverage relievers for that matter) deserve to hear the wrath of the baseball public for those times where they are not successful? Does an abundance of positive results preclude them from harsh statements on social media and booing from the fans at the ballpark?

New York Yankees closer David Robertson came into Tuesday’s game in the top of the ninth inning with the game knotted at four against the Houston Astros. Robertson was faring well in non-save situations this season and had converted 33 of 35 save opportunities.

Robertson has a tendency to make things interesting and Tuesday was no different. While he might have been being pinched by home plate umpire Paul Emmel, he was also pretty far off the mark with some other offerings.

With one out and runners on first and second, both via walks, Chris Carter came to the plate having struck out in each of his four plate appearances on the night. Robertson fell behind 3-0 and then grooved a fastball which Carter launched into orbit having been given the green light by Astros manager Bo Porter.

Robertson could not get the next batter out and was subsequently removed by Yankees skipper Joe Girardi. As Robertson walked off the field he did so to a loud chorus of boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd. Deserved?

Well the YES Network’s Michael Kay suggested on air that while it was the right of fans to boo, he didn’t understand why they would considering Robertson’s entire body of work this season.

Kay received a slew of replies to his tweet, some bashing him and others agreeing.

Booing a player has always been a bone of contention. When it is appropriate? But should we even be discussing the “appropriateness” of booing?

Fans have few ways of voicing their displeasure with a player or team. Some write blogs, others take to social media or if they are in the stands they can simply boo. It’s not like a fan can call the Yankees clubhouse, ask to speak to Robertson and directly question what his issues were Tuesday.

To other fans, booing is something that is not done to its own players or team. It is reserved for the opposition. Regardless of a player’s or team’s performance there are fans that basically refuse to boo when in their home ballpark and find it repulsing when they hear it from a guy wearing the home team's jersey.

To me, either choice is warranted. While I tend to side with those who do not boo their own players (I use this venue and social media to constructively voice my displeasure), I would not turn the guy sitting next to me and tell him to 'stifle it' if he booed Carlos Beltran after rapping into an inning-ending double play with runners in scoring position.

Getting back to Kay’s remarks, should Robertson get a pass for Tuesday’s performance because of his previous outings this season? I suspect if Robertson was allowing runs regularly and had blown more saves, he might actually have heard more booing than he did. I believe he did receive a pass from some of those in the stands.

Part of the issue and I’d suppose some of the booing was not necessarily geared directly at Robertson but at the general perception among many Yankees’ fans that this team is underperforming across the board. Robertson just happened to be the player who let the game get out of control Tuesday.

Yes, Robertson has been clearly one of the better players on the team throughout the course of the season, but fans are fickle and remain in the present. The Yankees seem to be going nowhere for the second straight season and a fanbase with a short fuse is grumbling. It just so happened that Tuesday night saw Robertson’s performance directly lead to a loss so he (and the Yankees) heard the fans loud and clear.

Booing is a right of the paying fan as Kay suggested. Like it or not, we should respect the viewpoint of the guy sitting next to us whether he's a cheerleader or a boo bird.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Yankees’ Girardi forced to pick bullpen over offense

I tend to side more with optimists when it comes to the New York Yankees despite much of the writing on the wall which suggests I should be viewing their fate with gloom and doom.

In similar fashion, I respect the job that Joe Girardi has done this season with little to work with, but it does not preclude him from some questioning.

I’m sure Girardi would have run away if he was told his rotation would have to be filled with the likes of Chase Whitley, Vidal Nuno, Shane Greene, Esmil Rogers and Chris Capuano who have combined to make 37 starts this season. That’s 31 percent of the total starts for the season.

The same can be said if he was told his offense would rank 20th in runs scored among all MLB teams.

So, an eight-game deficit in the American League East race behind the Baltimore Orioles makes sense. The fact that they have a puncher’s shot at the second wild card with a 61-58 record – they are currently 3.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners – is quite fortunate.

The Yankees have been fighting themselves at the plate for much of the season. Offense, once a powerful component of their game over these last 20-plus seasons, has hardly shown up this season despite adding some very large contracts for offensive weapons in the offseason.

The lack of run support for the pitching staff, which has performed adequately for much of the season, has begun to wear on the arms and in turn has forced Girardi to make some unorthodox decisions.

Michael Pineda, fresh off a lengthy disabled list stint, was more than admirable in his five frames Wednesday night. He allowed just one run on two hits. He struck out four batters and did not walk anyone. He was at 67 pitches for the night and the Yankees were nursing a 2-1 lead over the Orioles.

Girardi had mentioned that he might allow Pineda to shoot for the 85-pitch mark in his first appearance back, but then thought better of it as he felt Pineda’s pitches were getting up in the zone.

"We thought he started to get the ball up a little bit," Girardi said via "[Seventy-two] pitches in Triple-A and 70 pitches here, there's a different intensity level. He got a ball up to Cruz, and I thought he got a ball up to Flaherty. He got a ball up to Schoop. We just thought he was done."

Was it really a factor of Pineda’s pitches or the sheer desire to put this one in the books with his best two relievers, Dellin Betances and David Robertson fresh, knowing his offense might not score again?

Here is Girardi’s dilemma; which has a better chance of occurring, the offense scoring more runs or the bullpen holding off the opponent? Girardi chose the bullpen, lifted Pineda and charged Betances with getting through three innings.

He was right in the fact that the offense failed to score again until the ninth when they were down by three runs, but wrong because that third inning of work might have been too much for Betances and with Shawn Kelley as the fallback option once the game was tied by Jonathan Schoop’s home run, things got out of hand.

Second-guessing Girardi after the fact is certainly easy for fans. Could he have allowed Pineda to try for a couple outs in the sixth? In my view, yes. But had Betances avoided Schoop’s bat, gets through the rest of the eighth inning and hands the game to Robertson for a win then I'm not writing this article.

Girardi’s been left with little to no margin of error and because Betances and Robertson have been so good, he’s been spoiled to an extent. He looked at them as the only way to maintain the lead. He chose the two arms which have carried the team at times over his flailing offense. Good choice? Bad choice? Only choice?

Girardi's move failed and the Yankees have been reduced to a team whose chance of missing the playoffs for the second straight season now seems greater than them reaching it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Game Review: iOOTP Baseball 2014 Edition is as addictive as ever

I watch a lot of baseball. If you are reading this, I assume you do too. How many times do you sit in front of the television, or read an article about your favorite team and think, “What in the world is my manager or general manager doing to this team?” I’m guessing it is often, even for those fans graced with quality professionals in both positions.

If you own an Apple iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch or an iPad) which is constantly at your fingertips and love sports sims, there isn’t one better than iOOTP Baseball 2014 Edition by Out of the Park Developments. I’ve been playing this game for years now and the newest version is truly exceptional.

Below are some of the new items added to the latest version:
  • Real Opening Day 2014 rosters - Every player on every major league team is available, along with the top 20 minor league prospects for each team.
  • Major league player ratings are based on PECOTA by Baseball Prospectus, the best player projection system available today.
  • Player Editor - Players can edit everything from names and biographical information to hitting, fielding and pitching ratings.
  • Improved AI, including a direct port of the new player evaluation AI from OOTP 15
  • Retina display support
  • iOS 7 support (iOS 4.3 is the minimum required)
  • Various other improvements and fixes
As was the case in previous editions, the game hits every facet of running a real life MLB franchise. It is still very addicting as I found myself occupying complete plane rides managing my fictional team with an iPad in my lap, and then looking forward to finishing the next game or several games later in the same day.

There are three variations of play; Major League, Fictional League and Historical League. I decided to play a Major League season with the 2014 New York Yankees. I wish I could say that I made the team better but they finished outside the playoff picture with an 87-75 record.

Anyway, after selecting a team you are given the owner’s perspective and expectations for the coming season, a budget and the ability to set your rotation and bullpen, create depth charts and lineups to use against right/left-handed pitching. You can select how aggressive you are on the bases and where you place your fielders in respect to situations (yes, there is shifting).

The game in general can be played at a slow methodical pace or there are plenty of chances to advance the game through various simulations; whichever you choose. I used both methods throughout and the simulation does a pretty good job of sticking to any criteria set up in advance.

But, the true fun of it for me is playing the actual game day by day. In each game you have full control as the manager. You’ll have the ability to make any play imaginable. If you decide to use the simulation advances, they are available to start the third through ninth inning, or the next inning or half-inning based on where you currently sit and it will use your strategy which is again you've predetermined and can be altered as the season progresses.

As the season moves along players get hurt (I lost Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner to very lengthy injuries) and some players become disgruntled because of playing time which in turn can affect their play on the field (Ichiro Suzuki). A player's morale is not just for your starters, but also for the bench players and the minor leaguers looking for a shot at the show so you need to check on this often.

As a general manager you can propose trades and run the rookie draft as well as manage a complete minor league system. When do players make their way to the 40-man roster, or the 25-man roster? Whose contracts are going to be extended, or which ones will you dump? Is someone going to get Wally-Pipped? Once July hits, the trade chatter picks up just like it does in Major League Baseball. Most of the trades proposed to me were often far-fetched, but you can reject or counter them, and of course you can reach out to other clubs with your own offers.

I played straight through one season and after making some suspect moves (some purposely to see what would happen, like allowing the young player’s time to shine; some did well and some didn’t). Yes, Masahiro Tanaka was great!

The offseason is much like MLB too. There are arbitration hearings and free agent negotiations. Your owner sets a new budget and expectations for the upcoming season and away you go. Again, you can manually perform as much or as little as you want here. There is always the opportunity to let the software decide your fate based on your criteria.

The game remains very enjoyable and hard to put down. The ability to change the type of variation, allowing seasons to transpire one after the other with the same team and having the chance to select from loads of teams makes it a game that can be played over and over without the same results. I strongly recommend it to anyone who plays other baseball simulation games or still has their Strat-O-Matic collecting dust.

For those of you who do not own an Apple device, Out of the Park Developments also released OOTP 15 in April which is available for PC/Mac/Linux. The game is even more intricate than the iOS version. For more information visit their website.

Finally, Out of the Park Developments has provided me with some free iOS codes to iOOTP Baseball 2014 Edition to give out. I’ll do this in three fashions. One will go to the most creative comment left on this article describing what your first move as general manager would be for your favorite pro team using iOOTP 14. I’ll give one week from the publishing date to make a selection. The other two codes will be given out to followers of The Baseball Stance Facebook Page and my Twitter account so look for specific posts there about the giveaways in the coming days.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Huff, Hill could be replaced quickly in Yankees pen

In a somewhat surprising move, the Yankees allowed left-handed reliever Matt Thornton to be taken off revocable waivers Tuesday, and sent him and his $3.5 million due in 2015 to the Washington Nationals after the teams could not work out a deal.

I’ve been tough on Thornton all season. Some fell in love with his window-dressed 2.55 ERA in his time with the Yankees, but neglected to note he allowed 33 percent of his inherited runners to score. It was very apparent that he did not have manager Joe Girardi’s trust in recent weeks as he was seldom used in high-pressure situations.

The move left David Huff who has a 1.88 ERA (but be careful ERA lovers, he owns a 5.14 FIP) as the lone southpaw in the bullpen, but just for a short time as the Yankees bought the contract of journeyman Rich Hill from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to be the second lefty. It is Hill’s third team this season (which tells you the chances he sticks in the Bronx). Huff will be the first lefty used in left-on-left situations for the time being. He’s allowed just one inherited runner to score this season (eight inherited runners).

Hill made his first appearance in pinstripes during last night’s game and allowed a stolen base by Victor Martinez, whose knees could go up in smoke at any time, and then drilled left-handed hitting Ezequiel Carrera with a pitch. Hill was promptly removed by Girardi. Surely, not a great start.

When the Thornton move was announced, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the move was positive for the Yankees in clearing some more cash for this season as well as 2015. It is clear that they did not feel Thornton was going to be a part of the future.

So who is, and when?

Cashman alluded to two young left-handers players with promise. First in line could be 24-year-old Tyler Webb. Webb is pitching for his third level this season and having success with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (8.2 IP, 2 ER, 13 K & 3 BB). Webb has 81 strikeouts in 57.1 innings across the three levels he’s pitched this season.

The other is the Yankees' first pick of the 2014 First-year Player Draft, Jacob Lindgren. The 22-year-old from Mississippi State University has already reached Double-A after being promoted to Trenton Monday. In 13.1 professional innings, Lindgren has struck out an astounding 30 batters while walking just four. With continued success, it is not inconceivable that Lindgren can crack the roster when they expand in September; maybe sooner.

Depending on what Hill is able to do will certainly dictate when these young guns are brought up to the show. Based on Hill’s recent history, I don’t suspect it will be all that long before we see Webb and who knows, if Lindgren continues to dominate, he could see critical innings before the season is over, especially if Huff can't hold down the fort.

Further, it would not be shocking if one or the other of Webb and Lindgren supplant Huff as the go-to lefty for the Yankees down the stretch considering Huff's elevated FIP courtesy of his extreme walk rate of 5.6 batters per nine innings pitched. The important part here is that the Yankees have options, in-house choices no less, to fill the lefty roles for the near and potentially long-term future at very little cost, but with promising upside.

If I was to guess, both Webb and Lindgren will be up sooner than later and will contribute to the club’s success down the stretch.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Forget performance-enhancing drugs, let’s talk baseball

Listen, I understand how sports media works. Big names become big stories and then we read and hear about them all day. Then the next news cycle takes it away. That might not be the case with Major League Baseball and performance-enhancing drugs.

Anthony Bosch, the lead witness who helped MLB determine the severity of the punishment for Alex Rodriguez and others in the Biogenesis scandal, was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration this morning and it’s been the lead story throughout the day. I tweeted this earlier and unfortunately, I’m helping the story’s legs climb up the vine by using it as an intro.
Yes, of course it has to be covered, but why does it have to take precedence over the game itself? Haven’t we had enough and when it creeps back up why do we drop everything about what happens on the field? Why do we have to make such a big deal about it? There were (are) cheaters in Major League Baseball. They’ll hopefully be caught and MLB finally has a means to rid the sport of the abusers. That should be enough in my view.

I’d much rather be talking about on-the-field items.

Two of the National League’s top players are on the disabled list or soon to be – Arizona Diamondbacks’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. They were both hurt in the same series over the weekend. Goldschmidt is likely to miss the remainder of the season and McCutchen is avoiding the DL for now. McCutchen is an integral part of the Pirates offense and any lost time could derail their playoff hopes.

The Detroit Tigers are throwing the last three Cy Young award winners at their opponents over the next several weeks. Think they feel good about their chances to go deep in the playoffs?

Los Angeles Dodgers’ hurler Clayton Kershaw won his second straight NL Player of the Month award Monday. The guy is unstoppable. He’s well on his way to his second straight Cy Young.

Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu won his third American League Rookie of the Month award and also his second AL Player of the Month award. It is the second time he won both awards in the same month. Abreu leads the majors with 31 home runs and 84 RBIs.

The Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels are in a dog fight for the AL West title with one game separating the two teams in the standings. They have the best records in the American League, but unfortunately the loser will have to play a one-game playoff to make it to the division series. The Angels currently hold an eight-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays who occupy the second wild card slot as of Monday’s games. It would be tough to swallow if either the A’s or Angels lost that game to a team that won 10 less games over the course of the season.

There are countless other storylines out there about each team and the game itself. Unfortunately, these are not the stories we’ll read about today, and maybe not even tomorrow as ESPN’s investigative reporter T.J. Quinn tweeted this out earlier this afternoon.
It looks as though the PED epidemic in baseball is here to stay. Me, I’ll concentrate on what happens on the field first, then who cheats the game next.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cashman improves Yankees at deadline

Give credit where credit is due; New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made his team better without giving up highly touted prospects this July. The Yankees have a long hill to climb, as the rotation was not addressed, but they certainly look a bit more solid as the calendar turns to August.

As the clock began to wind down Thursday, it looked as though the Yankees might not be able to swing any deadline deals. The only word out of the Bronx was that the team claimed Esmil Rogers from the Toronto Blue Jays off waivers.

Then, word came that the Yankees found a seldom used trade partner in the Boston Red Sox as they sent utility infielder Kelly Johnson packing in exchange for Stephen Drew. Drew had been on the Yankees radar this past offseason but the club did not want to part with another draft pick and decided to go with Johnson.

Johnson, in his defense, was never given a full-time role. He was scattered across the diamond and unfortunately into positions he was least experienced with, first and third base. His erratic playing time seemed to drag down his swing and his fielding was atrocious.

Drew sat out until May when the Red Sox signed him to a pro-rated contract for the remainder of this season. Missing spring training really put Drew back and his .176/.255/.328 slash line gave the Red Sox no reason to hold onto him with Xander Bogaerts needing more playing time to develop and they were able to shed some contract dollars ($500 K) at the same time.

The Yankees will put Drew at second base as they designated Brian Roberts for assignment. Roberts was a detriment in the field and was not exactly lighting up the scoreboard. Drew, who has never played second base, is a fantastic fielder at shortstop and the Yankees hope he can quickly transition to the keystone.

As for Drew’s bat, I personally do not think that he’s nearly as bad as his numbers show. He might not hit above .250, but he does have some left-handed power and owns a career .757 OPS. The big factor here is the defense he brings to the table. There is also the potential that the Yankees are looking toward 2015 when current shortstop Derek Jeter is off enjoying retirement. That said there is no commitment to Drew beyond this season as was the case with Johnson.

Not long after the Drew trade, and just after the clock struck 4 p.m., word came that the Yankees had traded for Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Martin Prado. The Yankees sent power-hitting prospect Peter O’Brien and either a player to be named or cash considerations to the Diamondbacks.

Prado, 30, was hitting .270/.317/.370 with five home runs and 42 RBI with Arizona and is signed through the 2016 season. Prado owns a career .764 OPS and has managed double-digit homers in the each of the last five seasons. He’ll earn $11 million in 2015 and 2016. While was the Diamondbacks third baseman, he can play second and has seen time in left field while with the Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees will be placing him in right field as Carlos Beltran does not seem fully ready to take to the field and Ichiro Suzuki is better served as a part time player.

With uncertainty about Alex Rodriguez, Prado could become the regular third baseman in 2015, either because the Yankees buy out A-Rod’s contract or because they use him solely as the designated hitter going forward.

If the Yankees decided to use A-Rod at third, Prado could slot in at second base, though Cashman was sure to tell reporters that Rob Refsnyder will play second base for the remainder of the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and be given a chance to compete for the role next spring.

Cashman, via’s Bryan Hoch, thinks he improved the team.

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

The Yankees surely enhanced their team with these moves in my opinion -- maybe not dramatically -- but it is noticeable. Drew improves their infield defense, especially when combined with new third baseman Chase Headley, who came over in a trade just a week ago. I also believe Drew has the potential to out-hit Roberts who left with a slash line of .237/.300/.360.

Prado can be a marked improvement over Ichiro in right field from an offensive standpoint; providing more pop from the bottom of the order. While it remains to be seen what he can do in the outfield, I’m comfortable with the move especially considering it did not cost the Yankees much.

Some might disagree about what the Yankees had to give up for Prado and lament the fact that O’Brien was traded. Yes, O’Brien hits a ton of homers (33 combined this season between Single-A and Double-A), but he’s failed to come around as a catcher and he’s not as experienced at other defensive positions either. Plus, its a source of depth for the Yankees who have Gary Sanchez and John Ryan Murphy in the wings. O'Brien is comparable to Mark Reynolds; loads of power but a massive hole in his swing.

Do I think this team can reach the postseason now? Well, I don’t think either of these trades lifts them into the upper echelon of the American League alone. It will still come down to pitching and the Yankees hope Michael Pineda provides a boost soon, and Monday the team should find out about Masahiro Tanaka’s availability for the rest of the season.

If Pineda comes back and is as strong as he was when he left, and the Yankees are fortunate enough to get some work out of Tanaka (and he’s fully healthy) then they still have a shot at the wild card and maybe the AL East as neither Baltimore (traded for Andrew Miller) or Toronto (no deadline deals) really improved their team to a point that they’ve taken hold of the division.

Also, the Yankees’ offense really needs to get hot, especially in the middle of the order (Mark Teixeira, Beltran and Brian McCann). If they can and guys like Headley, Drew and Prado can provide more offense at the bottom of the order than their predecessors, the Yankees become a much different team.

In all, I believe Cashman had a strong July (he also added Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano) and made the team better. How much better? That is yet to be determined; the players still have to perform to their abilities.

What do you think? Did Cashman do his job this July? Let me know in the comments.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.