For the Yankees, 2010 is shaping up to be something of a sandwich. Stuck between 2011, ideally the year of the Jesus (and perhaps A-Jax), and 2009, the year of Johnny Damon’s and Hideki Matsui’s impending free agency, the Yankees will see a lot of key spots in limbo next year. They could go to the wall on a few big free agents, they could re-sign those they know or they could ride out the tide.
The first one up to consider is Johnny Damon and the left field spot. On defense, Damon has been dreadful this year. His UZR is currently -7.3 after reaching 6.7 last year. Yet his offense has been tremendous. He has an .882 OPS and should reach a career high in home runs this year. He is also in the final year of a four-year contract paying him $13 million a year.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve examined how the Yankees want to bring Damon back and how Damon wants to return. Today, Jon Heyman adds his take to the Damon mix:
The Yankees intend to try to bring back Johnny Damon, probably for about $6-8 million a year (that’ll be the first offer, anyway), and might be willing to give him a second year. Damon’s been saying in the papers all year that he wants to be back, which is quite a departure from the usual free-agent script and could mean he’s that rare player amenable to a below-market contract. Yankees management loves Damon personally, too, and that doesn’t hurt.
That figure — $6-$8 million a year for two years — is pretty much what I assumed the Yankees would offer. According to Fangraphs, Damon will probably outperform his contract value this year. With a month of the season left, Damon’s value is pegged at $11.9 million. Allowing for age-related declines, I would assume a value of $10 million next year and $8-$9 million the year after. (Value, by the way, is something of an ideal figure. It’s WAR “converted to a dollar scale based on what a player would make in free agency.” That “would” requires perfect information and agreement as to a true value between the team and the player.)
Next up is Hideki Matsui. We know that Matsui likes New York, and in the comments to Joe’s most recent post, we were debating Matsui’s potential value to the 2010 Yankees. While Joe Girardi has talked about using the DH spot as a rotating half-rest spot for his aging veterans, I am of the belief that a premiere bat at DH would better serve the team. The Yankees can ill afford to lose Hideki Matsui and his 15.8 batting runs above average to a lineup that includes Ramiro Pena or Jose Molina every day.
But how much is Hideki Matsui worth? He too is playing out the last year of a four-year $52 million contract, and while Damon has met that value, Fangraphs pegs Matsui’s value as $24.2 million over the four years. Even with a monster September, Matsui won’t be worth much more than half of what he has been paid.
As long as Matsui can stay healthy enough to DH and produce as near his current levels next year, they should be willing to offer him a one-year deal with the idea that some combination of Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira and Jesus Montero will assume the DH duties in 2011. In 2007, Frank Thomas DH’d for the Blue Jays and put up similar numbers to Matsui’s 2009 campaign. He earned $5.5 million and was worth approximately $9.9 million. If the Yankees and Matsui can agree to a one-year $8 million deal for 2010, I would approve.
The Yanks could look outside of Matsui and Damon, though. They could opt for an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher. While the defense would be stellar, the offensive production would suffer immensely. Damon’s WAR outpaces Melky’s by 2 wins and Gardner’s by 0.7 wins, mostly due to Brett’s defense. They could, as Ken Rosenthal speculated today, be in on Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, the top two free agent outfielders.
In the end, though, I’d rather give two 36-year-olds one-to-two year deals than give Jason Bay anything. I could be convinced to look at Holliday in Yankee Stadium for the right price, but with his career resurgence in St. Louis, he will be looking for a big pay day. No matter what, this off-season will be an interesting one as the Yanks look to fill a few short-term gaps and assess their organizational philosophy going forward.