By Sean Hartnett
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The Yankees missed an opportunity to stock their farm system at last season’s trade deadline. One year later, the decision not to trade Robinson Cano is biting the Bombers hard.
General manager Brian Cashman was forced to get very creative prior to Thursday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline, acquiring square pegs to fit round holes. The Bombers brought in two players in Stephen Drew and Martin Prado that have never started games at the positions they will now assume in pinstripes.
Drew has played his entire nine-year career at shortstop. That’s 955 games at short and zero appearances at any other position. Having traded his Red Sox cap for pinstripes, Drew will now shift to second base and will be immediately thrown into the fire when his new team plays at hostile Fenway Park starting Friday night.
Prado has played 252 games in left field, but is expected to fill a need in right. He has not started a game in right field during his nine-year career, only making one appearance at the position as a substitute.
For too many seasons, the Yankees have stubbornly acquired a parade of stopgap, short-term fixes. Guys like Nick Johnson, Randy Winn, Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Alfonso Soriano are just some who have entered and exited through the revolving door in the Bronx.
Cashman was never on the same page with Cano and his representatives. Cano’s clear desire was to chase A-Rod money via free agency. Talks between the sides shut down in May. Most clubs would have opted to do everything in their power to drum up a bidding war for a star player whose rarity would have netted a trade deadline haul.
But that’s not the Yankees’ style. Maybe one day the Steinbrenners will gaze at their main rivals and re-think their philosophy. The cupboard was bare for Cashman to arm the Yankees with the pieces needed to give captain Derek Jeter a fighting chance at one final postseason berth. Even if the Yankees squeeze into the playoffs, their roster is light years behind serious contenders such as the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherrington saw the writing on the wall as the days led up to Thursday. With Boston out of the picture in both the AL East and wild card races, Cherrington dealt veteran lefty Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A’s for power-hitting — and in his prime — outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The 28-year-old Cuban will now take aim at the Green Monster after seeing many homers vanish at the spacious dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum.
Cespedes will offer important protection for aging-but-still-dependable slugger David Ortiz.
The Yankees should have dealt Cano at least year’s deadline, rather than first underestimating his desire to get paid and then a team’s guts to jump in and pay him what he wanted, as Seattle did. As it ended up, the Yankees kept him, still finished 12 game behind the eventual world champion Red Sox in the AL East, well out in the wild card race and missed out on what likely would have been a treasure trove of young players.
COULD DREW REPLACE JETER NEXT YEAR?
A number of Yankee fans are salivating over the possibility of Troy Tulowitzki one day trotting out to shortstop at the stadium. Let’s not get carried away. It would take a king’s ransom to bring Tulo from the Rocky Mountains to the Bronx.
The Yankees’ bare farm system has not produced the gems to land Tulowitzki. It might not even have enough trade chips to have a shot at acquiring 24-year-old Chicago Cubs’ shortstop Starlin Castro.
As for alternative options, Hanley Ramirez appears to be breaking down in front of our eyes. Former Texas Rangers All-Star Elvis Andrus is failing to justify his bloated $15 million salary and his fielding has suddenly turned erratic in 2014. J.J. Hardy’s numbers have dipped this season and his power could dry up away from Camden Yards. Jimmy Rollins will turn 36 this offseason.
Perhaps, Drew is the most realistic candidate to accept the baton at shortstop once Jeter hangs up his spikes and abdicates his famous throne. Drew will serve as Jeter’s double-play partner throughout the final months of the captain’s farewell tour. This two-month audition could provide a glimpse of whether Drew, who will be a free agent when the season ends, will be comfortable in the Bronx spotlight.
But even if Drew plays well, Yankees fans will have a hard time warming to the idea of a Red Sox castoff replacing their legend.
Drew has been behind the curve since the offseason. He was thought to be one of the more attractive free agents on the market, but he never found the right deal and didn’t sign with anyone until June 1, when he inked a one-year, $14 million pro-rated contract with the Red Sox.
The 31-year-old has struggled since, hitting .176 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 39 total games. His on-base plus slugging of .583 is 194 points below his robust career OPS of .757, which is sixth-best among active shortstops.
Lately, Drew has picked up his power numbers, hitting all of his homers and posting a .806 OPS over his last 20 games.
Let’s take a quick peek at the 162-game averages for Jeter and Drew:
Jeter: .311, 206 hits, 32 doubles, four triples, 15 home runs, 77 RBI, .379 OBP, .442 SLG, .822 OPS.
Drew: .261, 158 hits, 36 doubles, 10 triples, 16 home runs, 71 RBI, .326 OBP, .431 SLG, .757 OPS.
Jeter: 21-of-27 on steal attempts, 115 runs scored, .976 career fielding percentage.
Drew: 7-of-10 on steal attempts, 80 runs scored, .979 career fielding percentage.
Drew has been a superb fielder throughout his career at shortstop. Only Tulowitzki, Rollins, Hardy and Jhonny Peralta boast a higher career fielding percentage above Drew’s .979. His career range factor per nine innings of 4.170 is superior to Jeter’s 4.058.
Having played in the pressure-cooker environment of Boston and earned a World Series ring, Drew is better equipped than most to handle the enormous pressure of being the man who eventually replaces Jeter.
However, he’ll be a tough sell no matter how well he plays over the season’s final two months and will remain a symbol of what the Yankees have come to these days without the proper prospects to arm themselves for the future.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.
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