I heard a radio caller yesterday ask if it was OK to boo Nick Johnson if he does not perform like Johnny Damon did in 2009. And the radio host, Richard Neer of WFAN in New York, said it would be OK.
It is not Nick Johnson's or even Randy Winn's fault.
It is not even Brian Cashman's fault.
It is Johnny Damon and Scott Boras' fault that Damon is not in Pinstripes.
Now I hear Yankee fans wondering if Winn replacing Damon makes the Yankees better. However, some are wondering if Johnson will be able to replace Damon's 24 homers last season out of the #2 spot in the batting order.
Others (many of the same fans) wonder if the Yankees paid $7.5 million combined for Winn and Johnson, why couldn't the Yankees have paid that to Damon for one season?
I often wonder about things, too, from time to time and in fact, "The Wonder Years", the great TV show in the 1980's, was one of my favorites.
But wondering about Winn, Johnson and Damon doesn't negate the fact that neither of those new Yankee players are replacing Johnny Damon.
Winn is a more cost efficient Melky Cabrera and Johnson, who everyone is assuming is going to hit second, is replacing Hideki Matsui.
Curtis Granderson is Damon's replacement and a pretty darn good one, too, who will get better in 2010.
When the Yankees traded for Granderson, it changed the thought process of the Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman. After that trade, Cashman knew if Damon wanted to be a Yankee, he would accept a decent one-year deal to remain in the Bronx.
As I mentioned before, Damon needed the Yankees much more than they needed him and when Granderson was acquired, the Yankees needed Damon a lot less.
What Damon and Boras have not realized is that teams now are putting just as much emphasis on defense as they are with offense. Professional sports are copy cat systems. When teams do well with one thing or another, then other teams quickly follow right behind.
Last season, the Seattle Mariners improved their win column by 18 games, but scored fewer runs (671 in 2008 vs. 640 in 2009). However, they allowed 119 FEWER runs on defense.
Clearly, this improved defense helped the pitching staff. While 11th in the league with a 4.73 ERA in 2008, the Mariners staff were tops in the league in 2009 with a 3.87 ERA.
Damon is just not that great defensively and his offense, while very productive last season hitting behind Derek Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, is not worth what Damon and Boras think it is. Offense is easy to get and the Yankees have plenty without Damon.
Cashman saw Seattle improve last season via defense and he wanted to focus on that this off-season. He also knew that Tampa made their World Series run in 2008 with an improved defense and has witnessed his other chief American League East rival, the Boston Red Sox, improve their 2010 team defense with the additions of Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro.
Improving the defense and keeping runs off the board are now important to Cashman and is a skill Damon does not provide anymore. And while Granderson's defense is not great, he is younger and will be more productive defensively in LEFT FIELD than Damon would.
Yes, you read that correctly. Granderson will play left field in Yankee Stadium in 2010, and Brett Gardner will patrol center field, as the Yankees love Gardner's speed and Cashman and Joe Girardi are determined to give him a full opportunity. The Winn signing this past week was not for him to start in left field, but to patrol all three outfield positions with solid late-game defense.
Winn's veteran experience will be an asset to the Yankee bench in 2010, similar to how Tim Raines helped the Yankees from 1996-1998. Winn will also provide valuable knowledge to Jamie Hoffmann, who will make the team as the fifth outfielder. And if Winn is terrible all year, the Yankees will simply release him and bring up from AAA recently acquired defensive speed specialists, Greg Golson or Reid Gorecki.
Granderson fills the Damon shoes quite well, with his 30 home runs hit last season, a number that is easily obtainable playing half his games in Yankee Stadium.
His low .327 OBP last year was a direct result of C-Grand hitting for an average of .249, far below his combined average of .292 (340 for 1165) the prior two seasons. That solid average allowed him to post an OBP those previous two seasons above .360. His ability to draw a walk has never been a problem, as he drew over 70 walks each of the last two seasons.
Forget CHONE, PECOTA and all that other stuff. Granderson's OBP should markedly improve in 2010 by working hard with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long on several swing deficiencies, improving his batting average and thus, his OBP.
And with that higher OBP and more speed than Johnson, Granderson should be the #2 hitter behind Jeter. His ability to pull the ball will result in more home runs and more hits through the open right side with Jeter (or Gardner hitting #9) on first base. Like Damon before him, Granderson's speed will help him avoid the sure double play groundball off the bat of the slow-footed Johnson.
Curtis hit into ONE double play last season; Johnson hit into 15 twin-killings. No way Johnson should even sniff hitting #2 behind Jeter, ending a first inning two batters in.
Johnson is more suited down in the lineup teamed with Nick Swisher, two walk machines hitting 6 and 7 in the lineup in front of the free swinging, but high batting average, Robinson Cano.
So, while many Yankee fans are crying the blues over Damon probably having to "settle for a $4 million contract" and play elsewhere, the Yankee team in 2010 will be much better. Granderson fills the Damon power and plays better defense in left field, Gardner gets his full time shot in center field playing excellent defense and Johnson will get on base his usual 40% (or more) of the time.
The Yankees simply can not pay Damon more than what he is worth, because he had a great at bat then stole two bases on one play in the World Series. He had a career power year in 2009 and who knows if Damon would be able to repeat that type of season?
The Yankees did not want to find out the hard way and opted for Granderson instead.
So please do not boo Randy Winn or Nick Johnson next year, unless of course, they do not perform as well as Melky Cabrera or Hideki Matsui.