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.