Yankees cast lot with their prospects

All I know is, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Co. had better be good.

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, for the second straight season, refused to trade prospects for a starting pitcher who could provide more immediate help.

Cashman is intent on proving that even the big-money Yankees can win with young talent. And even though his approach is curious, I’m reluctant to criticize him too strongly when he may be proven right.

That is, if Banuelos, Betances and Co. — the Yankees’ almighty prospects — are as good as Cashman thinks.

We know what happened last season — the pitcher whom Cashman failed to acquire, left-hander Cliff Lee, helped the Texas Rangers beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

This year’s trade market did not include a pitcher of Lee’s quality. But the Yankees’ need for another starter arguably is greater than it was in 2010, when the team had Andy Pettitte and a more effective Phil Hughes.

This year’s rotation, as I wrote last week, amounts to CC and the Uncertains. Maybe Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia will pitch effectively into October. Maybe Ivan Nova will, too. Just don’t bet on it.

If Cashman was turned off by the Colorado Rockies’ price for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, OK. But he couldn’t have acquired righty Doug Fister, who went to the Detroit Tigers, or lefty Erik Bedard, who went to the Boston Red Sox?

The Yankees on Sunday made a play for Houston Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez, but that push was driven by ownership, not Cashman, according to major-league sources. The Yankees were willing to pay $21 million of the $36 million remaining on the final three-plus years of Rodriguez’s contract, according to SI.com. The Astros, on the other hand, were willing to pay $2 million of Rodriguez’s salary this season or $5 million if his option for 2014 were exercised, sources said. But the teams, unable to bridge the financial gap, never even got to the point of discussing names.

If Cashman viewed Jimenez as only a No. 3 or 4 starter, he surely thought even less of Rodriguez, a finesse pitcher who might get swallowed whole in the American League East. Either way, Cashman prefers his young talent. One rival GM who spoke with the Yankees said Cashman had seven untouchables in trade discussions — a high number for a team that considers its season a failure if it does not win the World Series.

Cashman told me after the deadline passed that the difference with the Yankees’ prospects is that they are closer to the majors than those of many clubs. Nova and infielder Eduardo Nunez already have made significant contributions this season. Banuelos was promoted to Triple-A on Sunday; both he and catcher Jesus Montero could join the Yankees at some point soon.

To get Lee a year ago, the Yankees would have needed to trade Montero plus Nova or Nunez to the Seattle Mariners, a price that would have been reasonable if the Yankees had been assured of keeping Lee long term. Acquiring Lee — and winning the World Series with him — would have enhanced their chances of doing just that. But who knows how it would have worked out?

Lee, remember, lost two games in the World Series. As it later became clear, he had a clear preference for the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent. And Cashman would not look so good now if the Yankees had lost the World Series, lost Lee and lost Nova to the Mariners.

“I’m really confident with what I’m doing,” Cashman said. “We have the second-best record in the American League. People should focus more on that, on how strong the farm system is, how strong the team’s performance is. We’re going about it the right way.”

Cashman knew he would be criticized if he did nothing at the deadline; he even said as much to a fellow GM. The Phillies, Giants and even the Indians were among the clubs willing to trade prospects for pieces that they deemed appropriate. Cashman gambled on kids who will face inordinate pressure to succeed in New York.

All I know is, Banuelos, Betances and Co. had better be good.

Counting on Jimenez: a 1, 2 or 3?

The Jimenez deal between the Rockies and Indians was the most fascinating of this year’s trading season. The riskiest, too.

How good are the prospects? How good is Jimenez, for that matter? It will be years before this trade can be adequately judged.

Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, appearing on MLB Network on Sunday, seemed to agree with the Yankees’ assessment of Jimenez, that the pitcher is not a true No. 1.

“We felt like we traded our ace, but probably a No. 2 or 3,” O’Dowd said. “And we got back some guys who have a chance to become that and become that very quickly.”

If Jimenez is only a No. 2 or 3, why, then, did O’Dowd set such a high price? Because the pitcher’s contract is such a bargain — Jimenez is guaranteed less than $10 million total in 2012 and ’13.

As for the prospects the Rockies acquired, the consensus in the industry is that left-hander Drew Pomeranz is a potential front-line starter. Some see right-hander Alex White as more of a late-inning reliever, but the Rockies like him as a high-end starter, too. White draws raves for his makeup and competitiveness. O’Dowd said that Jay Matthews, the Rockies’ area scout in North Carolina, has known White, a native of Greenville, N.C., since the pitcher was 12.

The other two players in the deal are not as highly regarded. Right-hander Joe Gardner profiles as a reliever. Utility man Matt McBride is 26, and could become a minor-league free agent at the end of the season if the Rockies do not protect him on their 40-man roster.

Why the Indians did it

The Jimenez deal was completed Saturday, but the intrigue surrounding him stretched into Sunday.

Jimenez needed to pass his physical for the trade to become official, and his expected clean bill of health prompted a fresh set of inquiries from interested clubs.

According to a major-league source, “more than a handful” of teams contacted the Indians to gauge the club’s willingness to flip Jimenez less than 24 hours after acquiring him.

No deal.

The Indians want Jimenez for themselves.

Yes, Jimenez’s ERA is 4.46 this season compared with 2.88 a year ago. But the Indians noted that his strikeout-to-walk ratio is virtually identical to what it was the past two seasons and that his home-road splits this season were telling. Jimenez’s opponents had an .885 OPS against him at Coors Field, a .561 OPS against him on the road.

The Indians did extensive background work on Jimenez, including video analysis of his unorthodox delivery. And the team, in deciding to make the trade, was thinking as much about the next two seasons as this one.

Most perceive the Indians as a young club, but their window to win is not all that wide. Center fielder Grady Sizemore is under control for only one more season. (The team holds an $8.5 million option.) Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo are under control for two more, right-hander Justin Masterson and closer Chris Perez for three.

Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ first-year GM, certainly tried to seize the moment. He was active again on Sunday, trying — and failing — to acquire San Diego Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick and also entertaining a flurry of offers for right-hander Fausto Carmona, according to major-league sources.

Other Indians also were in play, but the club ultimately decided against making further deals.

Wade’s noble stand

In a notes column last week, I quoted a rival executive as saying Astros general manager Ed Wade would trade outfielder Hunter Pence only in a “job-saving deal.”

Wade took strong exception to that remark, considering it an attack on his integrity. The Astros are in the middle of an ownership transition. Wade might very well lose his job. But he conducted his business at the deadline the way he always has as a GM, trying to do what was best for his club.

In trading Pence to the Phillies and not the Atlanta Braves, Wade again drew criticism for dealing with his former team. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was Wade’s assistant in Philadelphia, and Wade previously had traded closer Brad Lidge and right-hander Roy Oswalt to the Phillies.

Well, Wade next dealt with the Braves, sending them Michael Bourn, one of the players he had obtained in the Lidge deal. What’s more, the early consensus was that Wade extracted a better package from the Phillies than he did from the Braves — which made sense, considering that Pence is under club control through 2013 and Bourn only through ’12.

It could not have been easy for Wade making high-profile deals and reporting to incoming and outgoing owners in what could be his final months as a GM. He was right — that anonymous quote I included about him was unfair. Say what you want about Wade, but he never has put his own goals above that of his club.

Where have you gone, Billy Beane?

The Oakland Athletics devote almost three pages of their media guide to a list of trades that Billy Beane has made since becoming the team’s GM after the 1997 season.

So, how is it possible that Beane made only one trade at the deadline, sending reliever Brad Ziegler to the Diamondbacks but keeping all three of his potential free-agent outfielders: Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp and David DeJesus?

Beane had an interesting response.

“Why didn’t we trade anyone?” Beane asked. “Because, ultimately, a trade is a bilateral and not a unilateral process.”

If Beane, 49, is starting to sound crusty, he is not alone. Other executives voiced the same complaint, saying that some GMs would say not only which players they wanted, but which players they intended to give you — the equivalent of walking into a store, selecting a product and naming the price.

Beane does not conduct business that way, and it’s telling that he completed his one trade with another veteran deal-maker, the Diamondbacks’ Kevin Towers. Rather than accept marginal prospects, Beane will wait on draft picks for Willingham, a potential Type A free agent, and Crisp, DeJesus and reliever Michael Wuertz, who are potential Type Bs.

Of course, clubs value players differently; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Rangers, according to one source, offered Beane a strong package for closer Andrew Bailey, one believed to include Double-A lefty Robbie Erlin, Double-A righty Joe Weiland and Single-A shortstop Leury Garcia.

Erlin and Weiland are the two pitchers whom the Rangers traded to the Padres for right-handed setup man Mike Adams.

Bailey is under club control through 2014. Whatever the Rangers’ offer was, Beane thought it was not sufficient enough.

Setup man more coveted than closer

Did Padres GM Jed Hoyer overplay his hand with closer Heath Bell? Or were the trade offers for Bell simply not good enough to justify trading him?

It certainly would appear the former. But the Padres, for all the supposed interest in Bell, received better proposals for Adams, who is under club control through next season.

Bell, remember, amounted to a two-month rental. And Hoyer, in weighing his offers, wanted to exceed the value of the two high draft picks that the Padres would receive for losing Bell as a Type A free agent.

The problem now is that Hoyer could get stuck with Bell for another year at $10 million to $11 million if the reliever accepts arbitration — a scary outcome for a team that opened this season with a $45.6 million payroll.

Hoyer could always trade Bell if that happened; a club with a higher payroll gladly would take an accomplished closer on a one-year deal. But Bell figures to receive lucrative multiyear offers, ensuring that the Padres get their picks. If somehow his market crashes, he could always return to the Pads for a steep discount, a trade-off he has been willing to make from the start.

In the end, Hoyer got the two young pitchers he wanted from the Rangers — Erlin and Wieland — but for Adams, not Bell. Neither Erlin nor Weiland projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter, but both are strike throwers who, in the Padres’ view, offer greater probability than most prospects.

A year ago, the Washington Nationals acquired catcher Wilson Ramos, a potential All-Star, for righty Matt Capps, a far less accomplished reliever than Bell. But the Minnesota Twins, after losing Joe Nathan to a season-ending injury, had a greater need for a closer at that time than any contender did this season.

Should Hoyer have traded Bell a month ago and then allowed the market to build for Adams? Perhaps. Then again, Erlin, Wieland and two high picks could prove to be a strong return for Bell and Adams. As good as both relievers are, the Padres can invent another closer at Petco Park.

The Rangers’ excellent makeover

The Rangers engaged in simultaneous pursuits of the Padres’ Adams and Bell, preferring Adams, but remaining open to Bell at a lesser price.

The final deal amounted to a compromise — the Padres kept saying that they needed to be overwhelmed to move Adams, and the Rangers only were willing to trade Erlin and Weiland for Adams, not Bell.

The Rangers gave up less significant players — at least to them — in their trade for Orioles righty Koji Uehara.

Right-hander Tommy Hunter, who won 13 games with a 3.73 ERA last season, had no place in the Rangers’ rotation, though he could be at least a fifth starter for many clubs. First baseman Chris Davis also was expendable to the Rangers, yet still offers rare power and significant upside, even at 25.

One scout said he would not have traded either Hunter or Davis straight up for Uehara. That assessment, however, might be a stretch — Uehara is enjoying a fantastic season and is closing in on an affordable $4 million vesting option.

True, relievers are volatile, but Uehara and Adams rank 2-3 in the majors in opponents’ on-base percentage. The Rangers strengthened their bullpen for both this season and next, creating the flexibility to move closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation, if they wish.