The New York Yankees swapped an underachieving right-hander (Jose Contreras) for an overachieving right-hander (Esteban Loaiza) just before Saturday's trade deadline. But if a playoff series started today, their first three starting pitchers would be an injury prone Kevin Brown, an inconsistent Javier Vazquez and the late-blooming Loaiza.

Then, too, the Yankees these days are trotting Tony Clark out at first base, Enrique Wilson at second and Ruben Sierra as their designated hitter.

They have one lefty in their bullpen, Felix Heredia. And because Joe Torre is scared to use him, it's like having no lefties at all.

Boy, $180 million just doesn't get you what it used to.

Make no mistake: If the postseason started right now, the Yankees would be overwhelming underdogs against a team such as Oakland (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and probably Rich Harden in Games 1, 2 and 3), Boston (Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield/Derek Lowe) or even Minnesota (Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva).

And the Yankees know it, which is why George Steinbrenner and his lieutenants were so obsessed with Randy Johnson, the Arizona Diamondbacks ace left-hander whom the Yankees were pursuing breathlessly -- and ultimately fruitlessly -- up until the moment they punted and settled for Loaiza.

For once, the Yankees did not get what they wanted, and the reason is simple: They did not have enough talent in their barren farm system to pry away Johnson from the Diamondbacks.

After years of plundering their own minor league system to acquire more high-priced talent -- Eric Milton and Cristian Guzman for Chuck Knoblauch in 1998, Brandon Claussen for Aaron Boone last July, Nick Johnson for Vazquez this winter -- the Yankees finally ran out of chips, costing them a chance at the one player who would have tilted the balance of power in October back in their direction.

The only thing the Yankees had that the Diamondbacks wanted was millions of dollars -- and that wasn't enough to get a deal done, because the Diamondbacks wisely understood they would have to answer to their fans if they gave away their franchise player in what amounted to a salary dump.

The Yankees will still steamroll their way to the division title, of course. Mike Mussina will return from the disabled list in a couple of weeks, and Jason Giambi's bizarre medical journey -- he had a benign tumor diagnosed this week -- may bring him back to the lineup by the end of the season. But who knows what the Yankees can count on from those two. This isn't 2001.

And right now, this $180 million Yankees team does not look like a team built for the postseason.

Philadelphia Sorry

Looks like an implosion is under way in Philadelphia. After dropping another one to the Marlins on Wednesday -- part of a deflating four-game sweep -- Phillies Manager Larry Bowa had this to say: "As a manager, I'm not even playing, and I'm embarrassed. [The players] should be embarrassed."

He then walked out of his office and muttered "[expletive] embarrassing" loud enough for the players to hear.

That prompted closer Billy Wagner to retort: "What we need is just for people in the organization to be more positive. The players are positive."

Meantime, the Phillies had lost five straight before yesterday's victory, leaving them 41/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the division and five out in the wild-card race. Bowa is perpetually on the proverbial hot seat, and this latest meltdown may be the one that finally pushes him out the door.

Holding Out Hope

San Diego Padres General Manager Kevin Towers neatly summed up the reason for what had been an exceedingly quiet July trade market until yesterday's deadline deals.

"Everybody feels they have a shot at the wild card," Towers said. "Look at Florida. Last year at this time they're calling me about Rondell White. I'm saying, 'Do they really think they're in this thing?' They ended up winning the World Series." . . .

The Oakland Athletics, who are wrapping up a big four-game series at Texas today, expect to get ace right-hander Hudson back from the disabled list Thursday or Friday -- and none too soon. After Texas, the A's visit New York and Minnesota, making it three straight road series against division leaders. . . .

Pittsburgh Pirates closer Jose Mesa revealed to reporters this week that the Orioles offered him a minor league contract this winter, in hopes he would become a setup man for Jorge Julio. Mesa signed instead with the Pirates, who promised him a shot at closer. The decision has worked out for both sides, as Mesa has converted 29 of his 30 save chances. . . .

Charles Johnson, who at one time was considered the best defensive catcher this side of Ivan Rodriguez, has thrown out nine of 56 would-be base stealers, the worst percentage of any catcher in the majors. Johnson was pondering a trade from the Colorado Rockies to the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday, which he ultimately declined. . . .

Former Oriole Armando Benitez is showing signs of wearing down as the Florida Marlins' closer. Benitez has recorded 14 outings in which he has pitched more than one inning, including seven in which he has gone a full two innings. And now, he is shelved for at least a few days because of elbow soreness. . . .

Chicago Cubs right-hander Greg Maddux takes his first stab at win number 300 today at Wrigley Field. He could be the last to join the 300-win club for some time, as the next-closest candidates are 38-year-old Tom Glavine (259 wins) and the 40-year-old Johnson (240).

Randy Johnson will continue to make his pitches for the Diamondbacks, who were unimpressed by anything the Yankees had to offer.