Johnny Damon May Have Overplayed His Hand, and Could Lose on the River

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Johnny Damon May Have Overplayed His Hand, and Could Lose on the River
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

I thought he was better than this. I thought that this time it would be more about the team, more about the fans, and more about the prestige of putting on the Yankee Pinstripes.

I was wrong.

With Johnny Damon, no matter what he said in November after helping the Yankees win the World Series, it is still only about the money.

And that is just plain stupid of Damon.

I wrote a piece recently saying it would be in Damon's best interest to stay with the Yankees as long as he can. To stay hitting behind Derek Jeter, who gets on base an average of 40 percent of the time, and to hit in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would greatly enhance Damon's career stats.

And after winning two rings and making $100 million during his career, Damon's only section to fill on his career resume is consideration for the Hall of Fame. And playing in New York always increases your chances for the Hall consideration (Sorry Padre and Royal fans). This is not to say that Damon is HOF material (I don't believe he is Hall worthy), but other voters might see differently if Damon hangs on to get 3,000 hits.

Padding career stats would be easier in that Yankee lineup rather than say, the Chicago White Sox lineup or the San Francisco Giants lineup.

Damon is saying through his windbag agent, Scott Boras, that there are teams who might be willing to pay for three or even four years of his services. Even now, after the Winter Meetings trade which brought Curtis Granderson to Yankees, reports indicate Boras and Damon are insisting on four years and around $45 million, while the Yankees are looking at two years at the most.

Damon and Boras thought they could outlast the Yankees.

Damon and Boras thought wrong. Although Boras has worked with Yankees GM Brian Cashman on several occasions (Teixeira, Alex, plus Damon 4 years ago), they underestimated Cash, who had other ideas for the Yankees 2010 outfield.

Cashman traded for Granderson—getting younger, getting faster, and getting better defensively. Manager Joe Girardi could easily slide Melky Cabrera to left field and have speedster Brett Gardner as the fourth outfielder. Also, the newest Yankee, Jamie Hoffmann (who is that guy sponsoring his BR.com page?), acquired in the Rule 5 draft is a right-handed power bat who can play all three outfield positions. He is really good defensively, too, ranked the last few years as the Los Angeles Dodgers' best minor league defensive outfielder.

What Damon and Boras keep spouting is that there is a market for Damon's services. There isn't. What teams are going to give Damon three or four years? What teams have seriously looked at Damon at all?

None. The teams often mentioned as possible destinations, the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox, have actually been media speculations based upon team needs, not actual attempts by those teams to sign Damon.

And if the Yankees decide after their internal deadline (likely Christmas) for Damon to accept a one or two year deal, then the Yankees will turn elsewhere. And Damon might end up like Bobby Abreu last season, signing only a one-year deal at $5 million. But again, what team is going to pay Damon considerable money like the Yankees?

Many big market teams like the Yankees (why they only want Damon for one year), Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Angels are trying to nurse through one year of a stopgap in left field. Get through one more year in order to participate in the expected Carl Crawford free agent sweepstakes next offseason. Although the Red Sox offered Jason Bay a four-year deal to play left field (and still could be interested in Matt Holliday), right fielder J.D. Drew could be gone after next season, either in a Mike Lowell type trade where the Red Sox pick up most of Drew's 2011 salary, or through two escape clauses the Red Sox put into the original contract regarding Drew's propensity for injury.

Crawford is widely expected to test the waters in his first opportunity at free agency, but with the prospects of the talented player going to one of those rivals, especially the Yankees or Red Sox, I expect the Rays will come to their senses and sign Crawford to a five year deal for around $80 million to keep him in Tampa. Even though Crawford was upset at the Rays a few months ago, a big contract with the only organization that he has known will soothe any ill will he might hold.

Although I want Damon back in New York in the No. 2 hole behind Jeter for 2010, what the Yankees should do just after Christmas is go Damon-lite.

With an ever-crowded outfield corps and the additions of Granderson and Hoffman, the Yankees should package Gardner and a minor league pitcher (maybe Ivan Nova?) to the Kansas City Royals for LF David DeJesus, a New Jersey product. At 30, DeJesus is six years younger than Damon, a better defender, and has been durable the last couple of seasons. DeJesus put up a line of .281/.347/.434 with a 106 OPS-plus last season and hit 13 home runs, the most he has had in one season. He also hit double digits in homers (12) in 2008.

DeJesus is similar to Damon in that he was once a center fielder and was eventually moved to left field. He is a lefty hitter who hits left handed pitching well and would likely put up even better power numbers in Yankee Stadium.

As a bonus, the Yankees would save money, too. In this tough economy, even the Yankees are looking to save dollars (trading Brian Bruney to save $2 million, non-tendering Chien-Ming Wang), and DeJesus is signed through next season for $4.6 million with a club option of $6 million ($500k buyout).

If the Rays do not sign Crawford, the Yankees would definitely go after him with gusto, but if he does re-sign, the Yankees could pick up DeJesus' option. At that rate, both seasons would cost the Yankees less than it would take to have Damon in the lineup for only 2010 alone.

Johnny Damon is a good player. He fits well in the Yankee lineup and would help the team immensely in 2010. But his presence is not mandatory, as the Yankees have other options at their disposal.

Damon has overplayed his hand to his detriment, both for his overall career numbers and possibly his bank account—which is the only thing it appears he cares anything about.

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