By Ernie Palladino
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Nabbing either Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel from the Cubs would have done Brian Cashman a lot of good. But since the A’s swooped in and grabbed them both Saturday for a relative pittance, Cashman has apparently flown into panic mode.

This is never good, though it is perfectly understandable at the moment. When on Sunday the Yanks GM sent inconsistent lefty Vidal Nuno over to the Diamondbacks for just-as-inconsistent right-hander Brandon McCarthy, it had the same effect as that poor cabin boy who found himself rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

But what else could Cashman do? He’s up against it now that CC Sabathia will not be back this season and two of the Yanks’ prime trade targets have flown westward. There is still the possibility of getting Cliff Lee from the Phillies, but it will take a major deal along with the absorption of the $50 million or so he’s owed over the next 2 ½ years.

That’s an expensive proposition for any team. Besides, Lee would not be coming immediately, anyway. Prudence dictates that he finish his rehab from a May elbow injury before any trade decision is made. He was scheduled to make his first of possibly three minor-league rehab starts Sunday. But given the Yanks’ recent luck with recovering pitchers, they would probably view Lee’s progress warily until a full-fledged return to the Phillies.

So we’re talking about a trade around the July 31 deadline. By then, the current pitching staff might have the Yanks out of contention unless this McCarthy trade rejuvenates the 31-year-old pitcher. His groundball style should be conducive to success with his fifth team, but his past is checkered, at best. His 3-10, 5.01 mark with putrid Arizona this year is simply the low point in a nine-year career that has netted him a 45-60 record with a 4.21 ERA. He has had just three winning seasons, and the most victories he has had is the 9-9 mark he compiled with Oakland in 2011.

He’s 8-22 the last two seasons.

Still, at this point, even Joe Girardi knows he’s better than standing pat with a rotation that is purely pot luck after Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda.

“I know he’s had his struggles, but he seemed to turn it around,” Girardi said of McCarthy. “He has a good arm. His last few starts have been pretty good.”

McCarthy actually won his last two starts, allowing three runs and striking out 13 in 12 2/3 innings.

If that represents a true turnaround, McCarthy will give the Yanks a reliable third starter. If not, Cashman’s inability to land Samardzija will haunt him the rest of the year.

The only sure thing is that Sabathia won’t be returning because of an inflamed knee. Pending an examination by Dr. James Andrews, he could be headed for microfracture surgery. That’s no small thing. Football players don’t rebound from that operation well. Even the slimmed-down CC has looked more like an NFL lineman than a pitcher.

His sheer bulk and the stress it places on his right (landing) knee indicate that if he does have that delicate surgery, he may never throw another pitch again. Most football players who undergo the surgery never again reach a high level of performance.

Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudamire had the surgery in 2005 and came back to make five more All-Star teams before an assortment of other injuries cut into his performance. But Sabathia’s body shape and age — he’s 33 — could present all kinds of problems post-surgery. Even for the youngest of athletes, the procedure is no sure thing.

In the meantime, Cashman did what he could. He picked up McCarthy, who may or may not help this struggling rotation. Lee isn’t coming anytime soon, or at least should not be until he proves he’s healthy enough to last over the long haul.

For now, Cashman appears to be simply re-arranging the deck chairs on his sinking ship.

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