- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- This conversation was before Mark Teixeira hurt his wrist Monday and earned a morning date with an MRI machine that could change everything. The hours were melting away toward Tuesday's 4 p.m. trade deadline as the New York Yankees, then the visiting Baltimore Orioles, took batting practice, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was in a joking mood. He knew the Rangers are supposedly chasing pitcher Cliff Lee, and the Angels might not be done dealing either, even though they've already added Zack Greinke.
The Tigers, who ousted the Yanks in the playoffs just a season ago, are still looking to improve, with aging owner Mike Illitch apparently willing to chase expensive World Series-or-bust moves the way George Steinbrenner used to. And yet, if Cashman was worried about any of that, he didn't let on.
Cashman acted as if he didn't have a care in the world.
"I just had to come out for some fresh air -- a sanity walk," Cashman joked.
The phone could've been ringing off the hook back in his office with trade offers, for all anyone knew.
But Cashman insisted he was probably content to roll all the way to October with the Yankees as presently constructed because, even now, all the talk about how desperately they don't want to pay the luxury tax in 2014 informs everything they do.
Then the game began and Teixeira -- who was already playing with a sore left wrist he picked up in Sunday's series finale against Boston -- had a hard smash ricochet off the same hand in the seventh inning, robbing the Yankees of their hottest hitter. He left the clubhouse wearing a Velcro-strapped brace. And the Yanks lost for the eighth time in 11 games, 5-4, to see their lead shrink to 6.5 games over second-place Baltimore.
"Well, sure it's a concern," Yanks manager Joe Girardi almost yelped when asked about Teixeira's injury. "He's a big part of our lineup."
"A low, low concern," Teixeira insisted. He pointed out he thinks he had a similar problem with the same wrist in 2009, "and I got a cortisone shot, took a few days off, and played the rest of the season."
Regardless of who's right, you can be sure whatever Teixeira's MRI shows won't be publicly revealed until 4:01 p.m. Tuesday at the earliest -- or after the trade deadline passes.
Until Teixeira came out of the game at the start of the eighth, telling Girardi that he couldn't swing the bat without pain, Cashman had insisted the Yanks were going to probably get by this year being the best little $196 million team money can buy.
Cashman said he didn't especially want to add payroll and didn't particularly see a need to, either, given how this Yankees team has hurdled every long- and short-term injury until now. He even smiled and gave an example of what he wasn't in the market for with a thinly veiled reference to Lee, whom he can't talk about by name because that would be tampering.
"If there is a hypothetical mythical beast that makes like $25 million a year for the next X amount of years that was hitting the market, we certainly could not participate in that level of talent -- financial talent," Cashman insisted.
"And if it doesn't fit [financially], it is a non-starter," he added.
This is going to take some getting used to, isn't it?
Whether to add more to the Yanks' roster or sit pat is the sort of risk-reward assessment that Cashman gets paid to make. And standing pat seemed to be the plan before Teixeira's exit raised a new worry that, at some point, even the Yankees can't lose Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner and Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira for long stretches without feeling the pain.
Even if Teixeira's MRI confirms he'll miss only a few days, Cashman is still taking a bit of a risk with his view that what the Yanks have will be good enough. And here's why: While it's true they began Monday night with a 7.5-game lead in the division and owned one of the best records in baseball at 60-41, winning the AL East hasn't been the sure-fire measuring stick of greatness that it has been in other years.
Cashman is essentially trusting that what he's seeing on the field from the Yankees over the first 100 games will remain better than how much improved the other AL contenders look on paper. And it makes sense.
But on paper, anyway, this is also hard to miss: The Yanks' starting rotation isn't as good as the one the Angels can now trot out to complement rookie MVP candidate Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, who is starting to again look like the power threat A-Rod used to be.
And the Tigers and Rangers are both flawed teams, it's true. But -- again, on paper anyway -- both have enough offensive firepower to heat up and hang with the Yankees.
And the Yanks, well the Yanks are a confusing team to explain. Their bullpen is deep. They hit a ton of home runs, including three more Monday night. The addition of Ichiro two weekends ago for a couple of minor leaguers now looks like a godsend if Teixeira is wrong about his injury, and he has to miss extended time.
But on paper -- there's that phrase again -- none of the Yankees' mainstays is having a career year.
Yet all they do is win.
Before Teixeira was hurt, Cashman almost wistfully let it slip Monday that if he did have a wish list, the Yanks' lineup against lefties could use a bit more right-handed power now that A-Rod is out. And in the old days, he'd probably have gone and chased somebody down to add to the team's embarrassment of riches. But now he just says: "I know we'll be getting our guys back from the disabled list." He also allowed he's always listening when it comes to pitching. The usual.
But beyond that?
Referring now to the Yankees' goal of not exceeding a $189 million payroll in 2014, Cashman said, "That should be enough to get done what we need to get done." Similarly, he insisted getting a couple million dollars of Ichiro's salary paid by Seattle "were necessary to get the deal done" -- same as the Yanks weren't kidding when they told Andy Pettitte they'd love to have him back, but they could pay him only $2.5 million.
It was clear this trade deadline talk wasn't going to generate much sexy news now, so Cashman was jokingly asked if he could trade for that "mythical beast" he was talking about, what would it be? And Cashman rattled off some monsters of yore: "Hydra. Pegasus. Maybe Prometheus -- although I didn't see the movie yet. What did Prometheus do again?"
Someone incorrectly guessed, "Wasn't he the guy who pushed the boulder up the hill" and Cashman smirked and jokingly shot back, "No -- that's me."
Another joke? Another bit of proof that even the Yankees have limits at the trade deadline and beyond?
This "best little $196 million team money can buy" idea makes sense, given the first 100 games they've played.
It's just going to take some getting used to, all right.
6hJacob Nitzberg, ESPN Stats & Information
22hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com