Yankees GM Brian Cashman will prioritize pitching leading up to the trade deadline

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The Yankees have lost four-fifths of their starting rotation with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova all sidelined due to injury, but general manager Brian Cashman isn’t ready to throw in the towel on the season. In fact, he told Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York via phone today that he continues to look for ways to upgrade his pitching staff.

“I have to reinforce our pitching, in my opinion. I have things that I feel I have to try to do, that I’m trying to do, but it is easier said than done.”

“We have to try to improve, reinforce and upgrade, certainly. We certainly we would love to have some significant upgrades but when you lose four out of five starters, it is hard to re-materialize the same type of abilities with the guys you lost. It is whether you incrementally upgrade.”

The Yankees acquired veteran right-hander Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks in exchange for left-hander Vidal Nuno earlier this month, but their bruised and battered staff doesn’t exactly have the look of a contender right now. They’ll begin the second half with a rotation consisting of McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, Shane Greene, and Chase Whitley. Some reinforcements would be nice.

There has been plenty of speculation about a possible trade with the Phillies for Cliff Lee, but he hasn’t pitched in the majors in two months due to an elbow strain. The 35-year-old southpaw is slated to be activated next Monday, so he could theoretically make two starts to prove his health and effectiveness before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He’s owed around $12 million for the rest of this season and $25 million next season while his contract includes a $27 million team option for 2017 or a $12 million buyout. The Yankees are one of 20 teams on on Lee’s no-trade list, so he would have to sign off on a potential deal.

The Yankees will begin the second half of the season at 47-47, five games behind the first-place Orioles in the American League East.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.