ARLINGTON, Texas - An executive from an opposing team could almost be heard shaking his head over the phone.
"Girardi, Cashman, probably Girardi,'' he said Friday while contemplating the Yankees' roster and where they stood in the standings. "Someone with the Yankees at the end of the season needs to win some kind of award. How is this team five, six games over?''
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Yankees fans have howled much of the season -- and not necessarily without reason -- about this year's team, which fell to three games over .500 with a three-game losing streak entering Tuesday night. Still, talent evaluators and executives from opposing teams have marveled at the Yankees' ability, even given the mediocrity of the American League East, to stay in the thick of the playoff race.
"That team,'' said an AL talent evaluator, echoing the thoughts of many, "should be at least five games under [.500].''
Of course, staying in the race and finishing it are very different, and getting the Yankees into October will take more work by general manager Brian Cashman.
The needs are obvious as Thursday's 4 p.m. trade deadline approaches: a bat, maybe two, and a starting pitcher, maybe two.
But the market suggests there are not enough acquirable players to fill all the holes the Yankees have. Indications from Tampa continue to be that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner is not keen on adding significantly to a payroll of $200 million-plus. That can always change, as it did with abandonment of the $189-million payroll threshold last offseason.
Cashman has performed minor surgery on the roster, and any more moves are likely to be in the same realm. That doesn't mean they can't be important and help get the Yankees to the postseason. So what should his priority be, a bat or a starting pitcher?
On ESPN Radio last week, Cashman said, "The answer has to be an offensive piece, I guess.'' The "I guess'' accurately describes the lack of organizational consensus, because there are strong feelings both ways.
The offense, as Cashman and everyone else have pointed out, has been poor all season. The Yankees entered yesterday 12th in the AL in runs (415), 11th in on-base percentage (.314), 10th in OPS (.696) and ninth in homers (93).
The one position player added, third baseman Chase Headley from the Padres, has been an upgrade in the field and at the plate, but hardly has the look of an offensive difference-maker.
"A bat'' is what a National League talent evaluator said the Yankees should prioritize. "It's been 31/2 months ,'' he said. "It's not a small sample size anymore.''
Cashman has bolstered the injury-riddled rotation by acquiring Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks and Chris Capuano from the Rockies.
All well and good, another AL scout said, but not enough.
"I understand the run production, they're not scoring and everyone's screaming about the offense,'' he said. "But if [Carlos] Beltran and [Brian] McCann and that whole crew is going to underperform the rest of the way, you're screwed anyway.''
The scout added that although starting pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, Shane Greene, McCarthy and Capuano have done well, there are still two months to go.
"If they're forced to go through another two or three weeks where they run out the [Triple-A] Scranton rotation again, I just don't see it,'' he said.
"I just think they have a better shot that McCann, Beltran and [Mark] Teixeira find a way to produce in that park , than they do with this current rotation outlasting six or seven teams that are going to be in the mix on Sept. 1.''