07/31/08 7:00 PM ET
Minor move caps Yanks' July spree
Deal for Minor League arm puts finishing touch on busy stretch
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
As front-office persons around the game worked to finalize additions for this period of the schedule, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman used Thursday only to swap a pair of Minor Leaguers, shipping infielder Alberto Gonzalez to Washington for right-hander Jhonny Nunez.
"Today was a quiet day," Cashman said. "I threw some ideas some certain ways with text messages or e-mails, but we weren't really close to anything other than the one we did."
The 22-year-old Nunez had a 1.13 ERA in five relief appearances at Double-A Harrisburg of the Eastern League after being promoted from Class A Potomac of the Carolina League, and he does not immediately figure into the Yankees' uppermost plans.
Cashman completed plenty to upgrade the Major League club in the days leading up to Thursday, however, playing a large role in one of the most active trade deadlines in recent memory by acquiring outfielder Xavier Nady and left-handed reliever Damaso Marte from the Pirates before trading for catcher Ivan Rodriguez from the Tigers.
"I'm very excited, and I think they're going to help us a lot," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Xavier Nady is starting to swing the bat like we envisioned him, so we're excited about him. We're excited about Marte -- he is not a comfortable at-bat against left-handers, and he also gets right-handers out.
"Then you get Pudge Rodriguez, who's been one of the best catchers in baseball for a long time. We've upgraded our team. We've had to do some of it because of injuries to people, but I'm excited about the moves that we've made."
While in Boston on July 26, the Yankees completed a deal to acquire Nady and Marte from the Pirates for a package of four Minor Leaguers. Nady immediately slotted into the Yankees' outfield, helping to replace the lost bat of injured designated hitter Hideki Matsui.
Meanwhile, Marte filled the Yankees' long-standing need for a left-handed arm out of the bullpen and paid immediate dividends, striking out Boston's David Ortiz in his first appearance for New York. Marte's role with the Yankees took on even more importance in the wake of Wednesday's deal with the Tigers, which sent right-hander Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit in exchange for Rodriguez, a future Hall of Famer.
By adding Rodriguez, the Yankees upgraded their catching by adding a proven performer who will take over as their starting catcher down the stretch, offering the skills of a 13-time Gold Glove Award winner and a 14-time All-Star in exchange for a player whose value may never have been higher.
While Cashman expressed reservations about "robbing Peter to pay Paul" in taking a part from the Yankees' biggest strength, their late-inning setup mix, there were concerns about Jose Molina wearing down in everyday duty, as he did in April when he helped to fill in for injured starting backstop Jorge Posada, who had season-ending surgery on his right shoulder this week. Rodriguez's addition effectively returns Molina to backup duty, as he had served under Posada and previously with the Angels.
"In theory, I think we upgraded offensively," Cashman said. "Pudge is obviously still having a tremendous year, and he's one of the top catchers still in the game today.
"We signed Molina to be a backup, and he's one of the premier backups in the game. He's stepped up and done a tremendous job here in a short time, holding the fort down while we were going through our stuff with Jorgie. I do think on balance, we gave a chance to upgrade on the catching combo side."
At Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski's urging, the Yankees and Tigers completed the trade straight up, contract-for-contract. Cashman said that Yankees ownership approved the addition of Rodriguez's salary for the remainder of the 2008 season, potentially making Rodriguez a two-month rental as the club vows to gun for the postseason.
Posada will continue to be viewed as the Yankees' catcher moving forward, having signed a four-year, $52.4 million contract before this season. Rodriguez is due only the remainder of the $13 million option year Detroit picked up for 2008, making his future in pinstripes somewhat less certain.
"It just kind of matched," Cashman said. "They had a need in the bullpen, and we had this need behind home plate. It has nothing to do with going into next year. It has to do with next year and taking chances. This year, this is what we're doing."
New York had also shown interest in a variety of starting pitchers as Thursday's Deadline drew closer, most notably the Mariners' Jarrod Washburn, who was shopped heavily leading up to the cutoff point.
While the Yankees viewed Washburn as a piece that could potentially upgrade the back end of their rotation over Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner, the price appeared to be prohibitive.
New York would have been responsible to pay the remainder of Washburn's $9.85 million salary for 2008, while also picking up the entire sum of $10.35 million due to the left-hander for the 2009 season.
Seattle also insisted upon a quality prospect in a Washburn trade, turning off the Yankees, who also checked in on the Reds' Bronson Arroyo before Cincinnati pulled him off the block.
"There were things that I was not comfortable with," Cashman said. "It's a seller's market."
Instead, Cashman completed a smaller transaction in the late evening hours on Wednesday, shipping reliever LaTroy Hawkins and cash considerations to the Astros for Minor League infielder Matt Cusick.
"We're going with what we have and what's coming in the system," Cashman said. "It's just a tough market to operate through. Finding matches that worked for everybody involved seemed to be impossible."
Though nothing is imminent, the Yankees are not necessarily done upgrading just because Thursday's Deadline has passed. Trades can still be completed from this point forward, provided that all players included in a deal pass through waivers.
In recent years, the Yankees have found few opportunities to take advantage of August trading, finding their deals of little to no impact on the pennant race. Their most recent such trade was in 2005, when outfielder Matt Lawton was acquired from the Cubs for Minor League right-hander Justin Berg.
The Yankees also made two August trades in 2003, acquiring Jeff Nelson from the Mariners for Armando Benitez in a swap of right-handed relievers and dealing left-hander Sterling Hitchcock to the Cardinals for a pair of Minor Leaguers.
"It's hard to predict," Cashman said. "That's why you try to do your business now, when it's nice and clean. You don't know what the available market is going forward from here."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.