Johnny Damon Back with New York Yankees? Pros and Cons

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IDecember 10, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29:  Johnny Damon #18 of the New York Yankees bats against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Two of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on October 29, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees won 3-1.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

News reports today have the Yankees negotiating to re-sign Johnny Damon.

Damon turned 36 years old on Nov. 5. For the past three seasons, he has had problems with his legs and feet.

Once a fearsome threat to steal bases, Damon had only 12 thefts in 2009.

Once a centerfielder with range as good as all but three or four players in the majors, Damon now is a shadow of himself on defense. 

He cannot cover the ground he once did and his throwing arm is virtually non-existent. Beginning in 2008, teams realized they could run on Damon at will.

In 2008, the Yankees realized he was a defensive liability. They made a trade to bring Xavier Nady over from Pittsburgh and that was possible because Damon could DH with Hideki Matsui on the DL.

But in 2009, Matsui was the primary DH and did a very good job in that role.  So the Yankees were left with no choice but to play Damon in left field despite his inadequacies on defense.

Damon hit .282 for the regular season in 2009. But that was not the complete story. He also had 24 home runs, drove in 82 and scored 107.  Despite 98 strikeouts, Damon's on-base percentage was .365 and his OPS+ was 126.

And Damon turned out to be an almost perfect number two hitter behind Derek Jeter as leadoff. Joe Girardi got a lot of criticism for switching the two players in the order during Spring Training. But the move turned out to be the right choice, as Jeter had one of best seasons ever and Damon was very good.

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But an intangible Damon quality is his performance in the clutch. Damon came through in any number of situations in 2009 when he was most needed.

Nothing is a better example of this than Damon's epic at bat against Phillies closer Brad Lidge in the World Series. Damon battled pitch after pitch until he was able to slap a single into left.

And then once on base, as the Phillies were in the Mark Teixeira shift, Damon took off on the first pitch and completed a double steal all on his own as he caught third baseman, Pedro Feliz by surprise when Damon popped out of his slide at second and headed for an unattended third base.

That move by Damon unnerved Lidge and began a two out rally for the Yankees that was the turning point in the Series.

Damon is a veteran, a well liked teammate and a clutch performer.

If the Yankees bring him back primarily as a DH and he hits in the two hole behind Jeter again, it will give the Yankees a better lineup than they can have without him.

He is not the prototypical DH, but the production the Yankees can project from Damon is probably more than the average DH gives his team.

Curtis Granderson is thought by some an upgrade. But Granderson cannot hit in the spot behind Jeter. Granderson strikes out far too much to take Damon's place in the batting order.  And he is abysmal against lefties, which the Yankees face a lot.

There are pluses and minuses to bringing Damon back. He certainly could contribute.  But his age and physical condition mitigate against a long term contract. Signed to a one or two year deal at less than his 2009 salary of $13 million, he could be a bargain for the Yankees.