By Ernie Palladino
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Brian Cashman not only tore down the Yankees’ safety net before the trading period lapsed Monday, he burned it to bits.
There is no excuse for not winning the AL East title now. By securing Oakland ace Sonny Gray at the deadline, and veterans Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Jaime Garcia before then, the Yankees general manager took away all vestiges of “young,” the adjective almost everyone used to describe manager Joe Girardi’s roster since a low-expectation spring training.
They still have youth, mind you, for no other way exists to depict Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Clint Frazier, Luis Severino, even utility wiz Ronald Torreyes. But they are no longer “young,” as each has matured far more than most players who share their relative experience.
The Yanks now are a veteran team. As such, only one immediate goal exists, lest another less attractive word be introduced to the final summary of the season. Anything less than a division title will be and should be considered a “failure.”
Without actually saying it, Cashman put that exact pressure on a roster that no longer contains a pack of fresh-faced, overachieving kids. Expected or not, they have achieved. And by their merit, the general manager saw fit to augment the crew with a power bat, two good relievers and two new starting pitchers, all with a view of winning the division.
Adding Gray just before the clock struck 4 on Monday clinched it.
The Yanks are going for it. It’s the AL East or bust. The future, which was what this year was all about in the first place, can wait. Cashman decided there’s enough seasoning on a salad already flavored with pleasantly aged talent such as Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.
The time to go for it is now — so far ahead of schedule that only Cashman believed such a thing possible.
Gray makes that a distinct probability now. For the price of one prized prospect in Jorge Mateo and two damaged pieces in James Kaprelian (Tommy John surgery) and Dustin Fowler (ACL surgery), Cashman landed a strong right-hander whose 6-5, 3.43 mark made him the ace of the last-place A’s.
If the bright lights of New York don’t blind him, if he can pitch even a little in this big town, the 27-year-old could become the instant leader of an improving rotation. Severino looks like an ace right now thanks to his 8-4 record, 2.98 ERA and would probably get the call if the Yanks do tumble into a one-game wild-card situation.
But Gray hasn’t pitched in pinstripes yet. If he proves worthy of the price A’s vice president Billy Beane exacted from Cashman, Gray could put the still-young, 23-year-old Severino back into a comfortable situation of following instead of leading. A successful Gray would also take the heat off Masahiro Tanaka, whose inconsistency has maddened fans of the Japanese import.
The division picture certainly points to a division title. Boston has all sorts of problems despite reclaiming a half-game lead in the East on Tuesday night. Tampa Bay was always better suited for the wild-card discussion, and acquiring ex-Met Lucas Duda hasn’t changed that.
Baltimore and Toronto are probably too far gone to challenge for the top spot.
Given all that and the trade-enhanced bullpen that has turned things around dramatically from its pre-All-Star-break troubles, it would be sinful if the Yanks could do no better than a wild card. Given Cashman’s masterful maneuvering through the trade winds, missing the postseason entirely would be unforgivable.
Whether they’re good enough to survive three levels of the postseason and bring home a World Series trophy is a different, premature conversation.
They must get to the tournament first.
They must do it in first, as division champs.
Cashman put that on the youthful, but no longer young, Yanks when he burned the safety net before the trade deadline.
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