By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Brian Cashman has been doing some masquerading lately, some of it for a good cause, some for what all Yankees fans must regard as smoke screening for free agency.

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It’s fine when he unfurls his sleeping bag and beds down on a cold sidewalk to benefit Covenant House, the Manhattan haven for homeless youth. They do good work there, and Cashman spending a night in the November chill for a fourth straight year offers a nice glimpse into his humanity.

But then he goes and hints that he doesn’t plan to land a big-ticket free agent this year, and you start to wonder whether he’s just joshing, thinks people are stupid, or has a touch of dishonesty in him.

These are the Yankees, after all. With Hal Steinbrenner admitting not so long ago that his beloved $189 million budget dream just isn’t going to happen again this year, it is hard to believe Cashman’s claim of abstinence toward the major deals.

No one is saying he’ll hand some lucky veteran a paper filled with Giancarlo Stanton numbers. If any general manager is going to blow $325 million, he’d better be spreading that around to three or four players. But given the Yankees’ holes, it becomes as hard to believe that Cashman would just as soon make the sidewalk his nightly choice for a snooze as go after a pricey veteran.

He has holes to fill. He doesn’t have the farm talent to fill them all. And the desirable vets he does have are so overpaid that no potential trade partner will take on the contract. Even if he wanted to move a Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, or Jacoby Ellsbury, each of them — along with CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka — are due $20 million, and six others are splitting up $70 million more on the 2015 payroll.

So that leaves free agency. He has no choice. It’s the Yankees’ way, even if it means shelling out for their own guys.

He will have to spend some money to tie up Chase Headley for third and Brandon McCarthy for a rotation that, in truth, could even use a second additional arm. With the durability of Sabathia, Tanaka, and Ivan Nova a legitimate question, he is focused on luring McCarthy back. But he’s also still waiting to hear Hiroki Kuroda’s decision on retirement.

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Whether Kuroda pitches next year or not, he will have hit 40 by the time spring training starts, and it would be foolish to put one’s full faith in one that old coming off a solid but unspectacular 11-9, 3.71 season.

It’s no surprise then that the rumor mill has the Yanks at least contemplating an offer to Detroit’s Max Scherzer, despite a price tag that will approach $25 million.

Derek Jeter’s shortstop successor has yet to produce himself, and trading with the White Sox or the Rangers for Alexei Ramirez or Elvis Andrus won’t be easy. And they’d still like to bring back Chase Headley for third and David Robertson as their closer.

Like it or not, Headley and Robertston will cost money. If Cashman lose either of them, he’ll probably do what he always seems to do — overpay a free agent.

“We’re looking at smart ways to improve our club,” Cashman told the Daily News last week.

For the Yanks, smart costs money. It always does.

No matter what hints Cashman may want to spread around to the contrary.

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