The first rule of negotiating with the Yankees is to involve the teams that make George Steinbrenner shudder: the Mets and the Boston Red Sox.

The first rule of negotiating with the Yankees is to involve the teams that make George Steinbrenner shudder: the Mets and the Boston Red Sox.

So it is with the Texas Rangers, who hold in Eric Gagne the best reliever on the trade market. Gagne would build a sturdy bridge to closer Mariano Rivera, who made a public cry for help yesterday.

But the Rangers have told the Yankees that they have other suitors for Gagne, the 2003 National League Cy Young award winner who has 16 saves and a 2.16 ERA this season. As the Yankees try to make a deal without moving their top pitching prospects, they are weighing how much of a threat the Mets and the Red Sox really are.

Because no deal had been reached as of last night, it would seem the Yankees are not too worried. They have said all along that the right-handers Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Alan Horne are off limits in trades. That stance has not changed.

The Rangers need help with pitching and in center field. The Yankees have many pitching prospects, but the best center fielder they may offer is Brett Gardner of Triple-A Scranton.

The Yankees have succeeded before by waiting until close to the nonwaiver trading deadline, which arrives at 4 p.m. today. A year ago, for example, they acquired right fielder Bobby Abreu and starter Cory Lidle from the Phillies without trading a significant prospect. They were confident to wait because they believed they were the only serious pursuer of Abreu.

Gagne's market is limited by his partial no-trade clause. He cannot be traded to Boston without his consent, and although financial incentives could sway him, Gagne may not want to set up for the second-year closer Jonathan Papelbon. Setting up for the decorated Rivera may be more amenable. Besides, Gagne cannot veto a trade to the Yankees or the Mets.

In an interview with Michael Kay on ESPN Radio in New York yesterday, Rivera made it clear that he wanted the Yankees to bolster the bullpen, which lights up radar guns but ranks last in the American League in strikeouts.

"We need help in the bullpen," Rivera said. "Velocity doesn't mean that you're going to do the job. Throwing hard doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get it done."

The Yankees would trade Kyle Farnsworth, but would not give him away to a team like Detroit, because the Yankees may end up competing with the Tigers for the wild card or meet them in the playoffs again.

The deal they want is to send Scott Proctor to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the utilityman Wilson Betemit, a deal they discussed last July with Betemit's former team, the Braves. The thinking is that Proctor's arm may be a ticking time bomb, considering how often he has pitched.

A National League scout, who did not want to comment publicly on a potential deal not involving his club, said Betemit, a .263 career hitter, was nothing special. But the scout said the deal still made sense for the Yankees because Proctor seemed exhausted despite still throwing hard.

"Proctor may come back in a year or two, but at this point, he's Tanyon Sturtze Jr.," the scout said, referring to the former Yankees reliever who needed shoulder surgery after extensive use. "Use him up, throw him out."