“Breathing first, winning next…”

That was George Steinbrenner’s mantra as owner of the New York Yankees.

Certainly, that concept has translated to the 2010 Yankees, who have posted the best record in baseball to date – leading division rival Tampa Bay by three games heading into Monday.

But the winning isn’t translating across the board entirely – because for years and years, we expected the men in pinstripes to dominate free agency, take over the standings and reel in whatever player they wanted via trade.

Ding ding ding – you are correct… something’s missing.

It’s been no secret that over recent weeks, the New York Yankees have been seeking an impact starting pitcher to bolster their already talented rotation.

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Cliff Lee – who nearly landed in the Bronx – instead was dealt from Seattle to Texas

Baseball has had its share of aces become available throughout the month of July, from Cliff Lee, to Roy Oswalt, to Dan Haren and then some.

Lee was the first to go – being dealt away from a struggling Mariners club and over to division rival Texas.

The Yankees wanted Lee badly – and nearly had him, until the trade fell through.

In fact, the deal was so close to happening, that Joel Sherman of the New York Post described the Bronx Bombers as being “on the brink of obtaining Cliff Lee.”

Here’s the tidbit that’s more puzzling: Not only did the Yankees lose out on dealing for Cliff Lee, they lost out to a Texas team that recently had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But wait, it gets worse.

The Yankees moved on with their negotiations, and baseball assumed it would only be a matter of time that they would get their man.

Dan Haren was next.

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Dan Haren was traded to the Angels in exchange for Joe Saunders, two prospects and a player to be named

As SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported, the Yankees had some significant discussions with Arizona for Haren, with a number of names tossed around – and scenarios where New York refused to include Joba Chamberlain, but also appeared willing to include prospects such as Ivan Nova and Zach McAllister.

Only, the Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t play along – and earlier today, the D’Backs dealt away their ace to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in exchange for starting pitcher Joe Saunders, two minor league prospects and a player to be named.

That’s strike two.

Lost in the depths of baseball breaking news on two blockbuster deals for two No. 1 starters is the fact that both of these players were traded to American League clubs – and NEITHER of them were the New York Yankees.

Instead, two AL West teams – both who could wind up facing the Yankees in the playoffs.

What in the name of the Yankee Clipper is going on here?

There are a few ways to look at it – and the main fact is this: The Yankees need to change the way they do business.

Money can’t always buy happiness.

Sure, it worked last season – and it’s worked a lot of seasons, but today’s game is changing rapidly.

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The Yankees formula worked in 2009, but the game is changing rapidly

Gone are the days that teams will just give away any player – and here are the times where top prospects are grown internally and kept for years, or instead dealt for a bevy of young talent.

The fact is: New York’s farm system is getting to be on the weaker side – and with bargaining chips like Jesus Montero being included in the rumors of potential impact deals, it would only fall farther into the tank.

There lies your real problem.

You see, the Texas Rangers had the top ranked farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law in 2009 – and that’s the main reason they were able to seal the deal for Lee.  Plain and simple, there was simply more to offer up.

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Joe Saunders is the main piece in the deal that brings Dan Haren from Arizona to Anaheim

Meanwhile, while the Angels were ranked significantly lower on the list, they had a number of low-to-mid 20-somethings on the roster (that were of high value, too) – including the likes of Joe Saunders, who will now be sporting Sedona red in “Cactus-land.”

So that’s the deal – the MLB Draft features a pool of many question marks, where only a few guys emerge as legit talent.  Over years, players can grow into contributors – but over recent seasons, the Yankees have been dealing away the majority of their prospects for impact players.

For every Joba or Hughes that have stayed, two to three guys were sent away for a quick fix.

One can spend all the money on Earth – assembling talent over the course of an offseason – but once the season begins, a number of issues can arise, from struggles to injuries – and just about every time, a team has a need for at least one impact player during the stretch run.

In today’s game, that’s when teams like the Rangers, Rays and Angels have a significant mixture of free agent and minor league talent, making it easier to put the final pieces into place.

At this rate, the Bronx Bombers are losing that luxury – and instead, trades for big names are falling through, the competition is catching up and the Yankees are left hoping that the best roster money can buy on Opening Day has what it takes to seal the deal and hoist the trophy.

Breathing may be first – and winning may be next, but baseball now has a new formula for both.

If a franchise can’t adjust – then the result could easily be “strike three.”

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