NEW YORK -- They might have been forced to put their pencils down, but the New York Yankees' real test is about to begin.
It's going to be a tough one.
Thanks in large part to the gargantuan, buzzer-beating undertaking pulled off by the Houston Astros in the closing seconds of Wednesday's trade deadline, the Yankees will have to prove on the field what they've been saying off of it.
"You fall back and look at the roster you have and feel like, 'This is a damn good roster,' and we can compete with anybody in the game," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman two hours after the trade deadline passed, echoing comments he and manager Aaron Boone had been making in recent days.
For nearly a week, the pair had been setting the stage for deadline inactivity. Confronted with stubborn sellers who wanted to raid their prospect-rich stable with deals their entire organization ultimately didn't think were fair, both Yankees leaders were using language that indicated a quiet day was on the horizon. In their statements, Cashman and Boone firmly backed up their belief in the current construction of New York's active roster and the injured list pieces that will perhaps be added to it in the coming weeks.
Often in the lead-up to the deadline, Cashman equated the talks he was having with other teams to taking a school test. He regularly said that once the bell rang to close the deadline at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, all 30 teams' test pencils would be put down as their chatter ceased.
To Cashman and his staff, the conversations they had weren't very worthwhile. The Bronx Bombers, in need of starting pitching on their pre-deadline exam, didn't fill in any answers.
"The best play was we did nothing. And we did nothing for a very good reason, because we felt everything that was in front of me was really not obtainable because of the associated costs," Cashman said. "And that's with understanding that as a buyer, you have to step up and pay.
"But these were prices that were making things way out of reach; way out of reach and way out of line."
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Somehow, Houston received what it felt was a fair price in exchange for landing one of the biggest trade chips, who, as fate would have it, was close enough to the Yankees on deadline day they could touch him.
It is somewhat jarring to see a team that -- since November -- has continually proclaimed its desire to upgrade its pitching rotation stand pat when it had a chance to do so.
And it was especially jarring when Zack Greinke -- the man the Astros acquired in the stunning, last-minute deal that sent four of their top prospects to the Arizona Diamondbacks -- struck out seven in five innings at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday before a rain delay ended his afternoon.
No offer is the same, of course. What was on the table for any potential Arizona-New York deal might not have been apples to apples what the Astros and Diamondbacks agreed to. And there remains the unknown of how Greinke will fare in Houston, let alone how he might have handled being in the Bronx on a team reportedly on his no-trade list.
"The best play was we did nothing."Yankees GM Brian Cashman
Still, the odds are the Yankees handed their best chance at a 28th championship to the very team that pulled off a deadline deal for a resurrected Justin Verlander two seasons ago, en route to beating New York in the American League Championship Series and winning the World Series.
No joke: The odds actually are high that that might have happened at Wednesday's deadline. According to the Caesars Sportsbook, the Yankees, who were favorites to win the AL prior to the deadline, have fallen to No. 2 -- leapfrogged by Houston.
Are these Astros the AL's best team now?
"Let's find out," Cashman said. "We've got to take care of our own business to see if we're one of those teams to go to October."
The Yankees are now fully hitching their World Series expectations to the roster they had Wednesday morning. With the deadline passed, and no more August waivers, there is no outside help coming.
Time will prove if this gamble on themselves really will pay off.
"The talent to win the World Series is here," Yankees reliever Zack Britton said. "When guys are playing to their potential in this room, we're good. We're really, really good."
But is "really, really good" good enough?
The Astros were already tough to beat, and now they've bolstered arguably baseball's most dangerous pitching rotation. Paired with a potent offense, Houston now boasts the likes of three-time All-Star Gerrit Cole and Cy Young Award winners Greinke and Verlander.
It's also a group that, paced largely by Verlander, has had success against the Yankees over the years.
In 42 regular-season and postseason starts combined, Cole, Greinke and Verlander are a combined 17-11 with a 4.16 ERA and an 8.5 K/9 rate against New York. Verlander is the only one of the group with playoff experience against the Yankees. He is 5-0 in those starts.
With the possibility of having to face those three aces, the Yankees' World Series hopes do feel strangely further away than they were about two weeks ago.
Fail to reach the Fall Classic yet again, and the Yankees' postseason losses won't be the only ones that haunt them come November.
Wednesday's loss will be right there too.
To be clear, the Bronx Bombers won the game they played Wednesday, outlasting Greinke's Diamondbacks 7-5. But it was in that behind-the-scenes war of player/prospect/cash-flipping attrition, conducted in boardrooms and on cellphones, where the Yankees posted a massive "L."
Then again, this is a Yankees team that -- recent pitching woes aside -- has rallied through an injury-ravaged roster this season. It is a group that has been discounted often this year and yet still holds a commanding lead in the AL East. It's a team that still has other elite arms, in particular an ace in Luis Severino, expected to be added off the IL before the end of the season.
Those factors help explain why the Yankees believe in themselves. But they'd better hope that belief is justified.
"[I] was just in there celebrating a win with those guys, and looking around the room, we know that we've got everything we need to be a championship club," Boone said. "That doesn't change. I have total faith in Brian and their staff in that they're going to always do what's best for this organization as far as whether that's short term, long term, all those things.
"We're ready to roll and move forward now that this day is officially behind us."