Once this season wraps up, there are few big-name free agents among the Major League outfielders. Matt Holliday will clearly lead the list with Jason Bay and the oft-injured Vladimir Guerrero behind him. Beyond that, a bunch of mediocre outfielders and aging stars will tempt teams.
One of those aging stars we know quite well. The Yankees’ left fielder Johnny Damon will be a free agent at the end of the season. A year ago, I would never have predicted a Damon return to the Bronx for 2010 and possibly beyond, but Damon has turned in a 2009 to remember. He is hitting .283/.364/.521 with 22 HR. He should top his career high in home runs of 24, and his OPS+ currently stands at 129, also a career high.
As the season has unfolded, Johnny Damon has continually stressed his desire to remain in the Bronx, and the Yankees have noticed both this enthusiasm and his production. According to Tyler Kepner, the Yankees and Johnny Damon may be picking each other as Damon hits free agency. The Times scribe writes:
Before the season, there was a sense that the Yankees would allow Damon to move on and turn over his left-field spot to a prospect like Austin Jackson or a younger free agent like Matt Holliday. But Yankees officials seem to understand Damon’s value on the field and in the clubhouse, and now they would like him to return. When the Yankees want to keep a player and the player wants to stay, that is usually what happens.
“I don’t know where else I would want to go to,” Damon said. “Obviously, that’s not the right thing to say when you’re about ready to approach free agency, but I’m very happy with playing in New York, and my family’s happy I play for New York. There’s no bigger place to go. If you play well here, you’re going to get paid. New York has the resources. But we also have the chance to win every year. I don’t want to attempt to go make more money elsewhere, for more years, with a chance to be out of the race by the first of June.
…Damon’s agent is Scott Boras, who is never shy about seeking the highest bidder. But Damon said that during his last free agency, he instructed Boras not to bother gathering offers from West Coast teams. He said Boras would listen to his wishes. “Scott knows,” Damon said. “Even if I did sign another two- or three-year deal to come back to New York, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be retired after that. There could be a time where I go somewhere and pinch-hit for a year or whatever.”
Damon, according to Kepner, recognizes that he’ll have to take a pay cut. After all, no team will pay an outfielder of his age more than the $13 million a year Johnny currently makes.
Now, we’ve recently saluted Johnny Damon. Not only is having one helluva season, but his career ranks him up there. His hits, runs and stolen base totals are among the leaders of this generation of baseball players, and he has been remarkably durable — or at least willing to play through injuries — since 1996.
Yet, I’m not sure how much I would give Johnny Damon. Two years seems reasonable, but should the Yanks be depending upon a 37-year-old Damon in 2011? If he isn’t blocking any younger — and potentially better — players, then so be it. As long as the Yanks do not handicap themselves with a sentimental deal, bring back Damon, but I’m rather wary of giving 36-year-old outfielders with decreasing range too many years or too much money.