Commentary

Cashman says there's no Plan B -- yet

With Pettitte on the shelf, fans will demand a deadline deal. Can the GM resist?

Updated: July 21, 2010, 10:33 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees finished second in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.

They may well still wind up with one of the consolation prizes, a Roy Oswalt, a Dan Haren, a Ben Sheets or a Jonathan Sanchez.

But first, they're going to have to be convinced Sergio Mitre can't do the job, and then that Chad Gaudin can't do it, and maybe even that Dustin Moseley can't.

On the weekend during which the body of George Steinbrenner was laid to rest, the culture that he left behind remains alive and well throughout Yankee Nation.

Within minutes of the moment Andy Pettitte grabbed his groin, grabbed his hat and left the mound with a groin strain that is likely to sideline him for four to five weeks, the blogosphere, the tweetosphere and the airborne loony bin known as sports talk radio lit up with the same anguished cry: "This is why we shoulda gotten Cliff Lee!''

[+] EnlargeJorge Posada & Andy Pettitte
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAndy Pettitte and Jorge Posada both knew something was wrong in the third inning.

But the Yankees didn't get Lee. They had their chains yanked and the rug yanked out from under them at the last minute by the Seattle Mariners, who used the Yankees' offer of top prospect Jesus Montero to get the guy they really wanted, Justin Smoak, from the Texas Rangers.

So now it's only natural that Yankees fans will expect, and probably demand, that the team pluck someone, anyone, from the list of starting pitchers expected to be available between now and the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Kevin Millwood, anyone?

But general manager Brian Cashman said on Sunday that this year, the Yankees are going to have to make it through October the old-fashioned way: with the roster of players they have, not the roster of players their fans would like them to have.

"Right now, I'm not inclined to make a move,'' Cashman said. "I always prefer to fix things from within.''

That might seem laughable coming from the GM of a team that spent nearly a half-billion dollars on three players before the 2009 season, or that in 2004 went out and picked up a shortstop who was even more expensive than the $20 million-a-year shortstop they already had, or that in 2002 added Jason Giambi to a team that had come within two outs of winning its fifth World Series in six years.

And in truth, Cashman added this caveat: "There's still time on the clock and if anything makes sense, we'll pursue it. But frankly, Cliff Lee was a special pitcher.''

Which implies, of course, that the rest of the field is not.

Although it might not seem like it now, not getting Lee was a blessing in disguise for the Yankees, who now can acquire him for cash after the season rather than depleting the farm system for him right now.

Still, plenty of Yankees fans see this as a potentially season-destroying blunder, and this is the legacy The Boss left behind, the belief that the Yankees not only can, but should, always try to buy their way out of trouble lest -- heaven forbid -- they wind up in something as messy and uncertain as, gulp, a pennant race!

That kind of thinking, of course, robs the baseball season of one of its essential joys, the joy of competition, the uncertainty of knowing whether your team is really good enough to win it all and the anxiety of watching its players be forced to prove that they are.

A lot of times, you get the feeling Yankees fans would like to skip the entire season and fast-forward right to the victory parade.

Clearly the exorbitant cost of attending a Yankees game plays into that kind of thinking; at these prices, they better win, dammit!

And in that, you can hear echoes of The Boss' mantra -- "You better be right, pal!'' -- repeated countless times to managers and GMs throughout his 37-year ownership, and repeated plenty of times to Cashman.

But believe it or not, this is the way the rest of the sports worlds lives, even in baseball, where the only restriction on spending is an owner's aversion to drowning in red ink.

In markets other than New York or Boston, a pitcher like Pettitte goes down, and they do what the Yankees say they will do this year: look to the bench or the bullpen or the farm for a suitable replacement.

Sometimes, they come up with one. Sometimes they don't. And sometimes, a pennant that seems as if it was locked up in July slips away in September, maybe even on the last day of the season. Ask the Detroit Tigers about that one.

The loss of Pettitte in the third inning of Sunday's 9-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays is unfortunate for the Yankees and especially tough for the pitcher, who at 38 was off to the best start of his 16-year career. And it was untimely, coming a day after A.J. Burnett decided to play patty-cake on a clubhouse door and wound up with two bloody palms.

But it is hardly catastrophic. As Cashman said, "We had five healthy starting pitchers Saturday, and now we have four.''

Believe it or not, things could be worse. A lot worse.

On a weekend in which the emotions ran even higher than the thermometer, a weekend during which it would have been easy for the Yankees to succumb to the formidable distractions posed by the double body shot of the death of their owner as well as that of Bob Sheppard, the PA announcer at Yankee Stadium for 57 years, they responded with a dramatic walk-off win on Friday night and a blowout of David Price, the best pitcher on the second-best team in baseball, Sunday afternoon.

And they did it in spite of losing their second-best starter on a day in which they were short in the bullpen, having needed seven innings of relief pitching a day before.

In just about every possible way, it was a huge weekend for the Yankees, perhaps even a pivotal one. The Rays came in trailing by two games and left trailing by three.

Still, for the next 13 days, you can expect to hear it again and again and again: We shoulda got Cliff Lee. We better get Roy Oswalt. We gotta get SOMEBODY!!!

And from the great beyond, you can still hear echoes of The Boss: You better be right, pal.

As of today, Brian Cashman is turning a deaf ear to that kind of talk.

And as of today, I think he is right, pal.

GAME NOTES: The Yankees hung seven runs on Price (12-5), not only his worst outing of the season but the second-worst of his career. (On June 23, 2009, he allowed 10 runs to the Phillies.) Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada had two-run doubles, Derek Jeter, who was mired in a 3-for-25 slide, had two hits, scored twice and drove in a run, and Alex Rodriguez hit a solo HR, his 15th of the season and 598th of his career. … Chan Ho Park earned his frst win since April 7, throwing an outstanding 1 2/3 innings of hitless ball, striking out two. … The Yankees are off on Monday and open a two-game series against the Angels on Tuesday night at the Stadium. Phil Hughes (11-2, 3.65 ERA) faces LHP Scott Kazmir (7-9, 6.92).

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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