The twists and turns of Johnny Damon’s off-season


To kick off the 2009 Winter Meetings, Brian Cashman delivered a quote that we’ve parroted ever since. When describing the team needs, Cashman said he sought “pitching, pitching, pitching — and left field.” Pitching he has since covered, bringing back Andy Pettitte and trading for Javy Vazquez. But what about left field? He addressed center field by acquiring Curtis Granderson, but has done nothing about left field. In fact, he traded his longest tenured outfielder, leaving the position a bit more uncertain. Ever since, we’ve attempted to determine the best candidate for the spot.

Cashman recently said that the team “is, for the most part, set.” He went on to say that the team likes Brett Gardner in left field, though we’ve heard similar things from Cashman in the past only to have him change course when the opportunity arises. This happened last winter, when he described the potential acquisitions of both Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia “fantasy land, not reality land.” The more common reference goes back to Bubba Crosby, the supposed center fielder heading into 2006 — until, of course, the Yankees signed Johnny Damon.

Could Damon end up back with the Yankees under similar circumstances? It doesn’t appear likely, but with Damon’s market practically nonexistent at this point there’s no ruling it out. It would be a wild ride if it happened, given all we’ve heard about the Damon-Yankees relationship this off-season.

Damon got the ball rolling at the World Series parade, expressing his desire to come back but letting everyone know just how highly he thinks of himself.

“I’m going to have a lot of options, so I think what it comes down to is what kind of option the Yankees want to give me or not give me. Why wouldn’t I want to come back? We have the best owners in baseball, we have the best team and we have the most revenue and the biggest payroll. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the Yankee tradition? I would like to continue mine. I feel like I can come back and do a great job again.”

Predictably, Damon’s market did not develop as he had planned. He never had a lot of options, though that didn’t stop his agent, Scott Boras, from playing his hand as though a dozen teams expressed interest. Word leaked that Boras told the Yankees to not bother marking an offer unless it was at least three years at $13 million. Since no team was going to offer that, the Yankees moved on.

When they started negotiating with Nick Johnson, apparently Damon recognized the urgency of the situation. He reportedly offered to come back for two years and $20 million, but the Yankees, already knee deep in the Johnson negotiations, stuck to their two-year, $14 million offer. Damon understandably rejected that, thinking that perhaps he could catch on with another team in need of a corner outfielder with leadoff hitter skills.

Since the Johnson signing, we’ve heard little of other teams’ interest in Damon. The Yankee talk started up again after the Vazquez trade, since the team sent Melky Cabrera, the presumed left fielder, to Atlanta. But Cashman quickly quelled the chatter. Damon, too, admits that there’s nothing to rumors of a reunion, at least for the moment. “I haven’t had any conversations with them recently. Nothing would surprise me, out there’s nothing there right now.”

The most recent nugget on Damon came on Monday, from Jon Heyman of SI. In the notes portion of his column he said that the “Braves and Giants are believed to have made offers for Damon.” A few hours later, Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted that the Braves did not have an offer on the table. And, since the Giants signed Aubrey Huff on Sunday, chances are they don’t have room for Damon either. His off-season saga continues.

With the team all but set, the Damon situation represents our last bit of excitement before actual baseball. The team might add a left fielder or utility player between now and Spring Training, but it’ll be just another transaction. Whether Johnny Damon come back or signs elsewhere affects how we will enjoy the 2010 season. Not that I’ll enjoy it any less without Damon. It’ll just be different.

Categories : Hot Stove League


  1. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    All due respect to the Gritaphiles out there, but Johnny would make the Yankees a whole lot better.

    • jsbrendog says:

      johnny damon in lf instead of gardner makes them a lot better offensively but a lot worse defensively. either way i dont care. there is enough offense to carry gardner/hoffman out there and with granderson and swisher out there there is enough defense to carry damon out there. color me indifferent

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

        Johnny’s Defense + Offense >>>>> Brett’s Defense + Offense.

        • CountryClub says:

          You have no way to know if this is true. The odds are that Damon does not match last yr’s offensive production and that Gardner gets slightly better (because he has a full yr under his belt). At the same time, Damon’s defense will probably be the same or worse as it was last yr. So he could be declining in both phases of the game.

          • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

            Who sets these odds? Because I’m willing to bet that Gardner doesn’t get any better at the plate, in fact, I’ll bet he gets worse.

            • CountryClub says:

              I know a lot of people agree with you. But Gardner has gotten better his 2nd yr at every level he’s played at. I think he’ll at least match last yr’s effort. I’d be more than happy with that once you add in his D.

              • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

                So in 3 years Gardner should be an All-Star, and in 4 years Gardner should be an elite All-Star and in 5 years, he’ll be the G.O.A.T.

                • When Swisher and Granderson’s contracts expire, we’re just going to let them walk and not replace them.

                  Brett Gardner will be all the outfielders we’ll need.

                • CountryClub says:

                  When did I say that? The evidence on Gardner so far, shows that he adapts much better to a new level in his second go around.

                • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

                  It seems the evidence implies that he has no ceiling, he constantly improves, constantly perfects.

                • CountryClub says:

                  It’s funny, you and I were having an intelligent exchange. Oh well.

                • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

                  How about this then. Most major leaguers don’t need a repeat of a minor league level.

                • CountryClub says:

                  While that’s most likely true, it doesn’t change the fact that Gardner has and that the results have been good.

                  Look, nobody is saying (at least I’m not) that Gardner is going to have a better career than Damon. But I do think the gap between the two of them currently (when you take defense into account) is a lot smaller than what other people think.

        • I don’t think it’s remotely that simple.

          If Johnny’s defense rebounds:
          Johnny >>>>> Brett

          If Johnny’s defense declines:
          Johnny = Brett

          If Johnny’s bat declines:
          Brett >> Johnny

          If Brett’s UZR is just a small sample myth:
          Johnny >>>>> Brett

          If Brett continues to make positive incremental adjustments at the plate with a larger sample size, like he’s done at every level of the minors:
          Brett >>>>>> Johnny

          If Johnny gets hurt, like old guys are prone to do:
          Brett >>>> Johnny

          If Brett’s just a AAAA player, exposed in a larger sample:
          Johnny >>>>>>>>> Brett

          If Brett is coupled with a quality platoon partner, and they both perform well in their respective splits:
          Brett + RHB >>>>>>>> Johnny

          There’s a whole buttload of variables on both sides. Both Brett Gardner and Johnny Damon would drive Jules Winfield crazy, because they’re nothing but contemplated “ifs”.

        • pete says:

          First of all, we don’t even know that that is true. Johnny OPS’d like .760 on the road last year. If he experiences any offensive decline, then he’ll be essentially a guy who can only hit at home, plays absolutely abhorrent defense, and forces the yankees to compromise their financial flexibility by putting them over their budget. Gardner, meanwhile, appears to be an exceptional defender – approximately a 30 run swing from Damon on D, and an above replacement level hitter, if not quite MLB average, with excellent speed.

          But secondly, and even more importantly, this is not a “what’s better” scenario. When you approach your budget, it becomes a “what is the need” scenario. The yankees won 103 games last year, and have since replaced (at least) Damon’s production through the addition of Curtis Granderson, who may not be quite as productive on offense (though he certainly could be) but will make up at least the difference on D. Therefore we have to think of Gardner as Melky Cabrera’s replacement, not Damon’s. While melky is more of a surefire league-average offensive player with defense ranging from above average in left to average in center, gardner’s upside is higher. If gardner gets on base above .330, he could steal 40-50 bases. Throw in exceptional defense in left or center, and he could be a 3+ WAR player. But ignore that. Let’s imagine that Gardner is a 1 WAR player next year, a downgrade from cabrera. Shouldn’t the upgrades from 2009 Joba to Javier Vazquez and from Mitre/Gaudin to 2010 Joba more than make up for it? By all means, teams should always be looking to improve at all times, but if doing so puts you over your budget, and you already appear to have a 100+ win team, is it really smart?

          • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

            but if doing so puts you over your budget, and you already appear to have a 100+ win team, is it really smart?

            dammit…i wasted so much time typing out all my other thoughts, and there it is.

      • Will says:

        Are we sure that Damon is such a bad defensive LF’er? After all, he was pretty good in LF in both 2007 and 2008, so does his abysmal 2009 represent a stark decline or perhaps an aberration? After all, Damon did complain about an eye issue as well as the time it took to get acclimated to the new Stadium. Perhaps these two factors distorted what is already a relatively small sample size.

        Speaking of small sample sizes, Brett Gardner doesn’t even have one full year of defensive statistics, so I don’t think we can safely conclude that he is such a great outfielder.

        • Speaking of small sample sizes, Brett Gardner doesn’t even have one full year of defensive statistics, so I don’t think we can safely conclude that he is such a great outfielder.

          This has been repeated a lot, and I think it needs a bit more context.

          Yes, Brett Gardner has a sterling UZR and yes, it’s unreliable because it’s a small sample size. However, while there is no UZR available to provide hard evidential data from the minor leagues and college, there’s also oodles and oodles of anecdotal scouting reports that say that Gardner was an elite defender at those levels as well. There’s near unanimity of praise in the profiles and blurbs.

          Fagan, 2006: “His speed and excellent sense in the outfield translate to an outstanding defensive game, among the best in the Yankee farm system. His arm is average, although fairly accurate… Gardner has Juan Pierre type tools, with a little bit more on the plate discipline side of things than Pierre does. He plays better defense than Pierre.”

          Some schmuck named Mike Axisa, 2006: “His routes in the outfield leave something to be desired, but he uses his speed to hide that blemish effectively.”

          Czerwinski and Mayo, 2006: “Gardner’s speed is a game-changer in the field as well. He can track down just about any ball in the air and covers a tremendous amount of ground. His one flaw defensively is his arm, which grades out as a 40.”

          Sickels, 2008: “Gardner’s glovework in center field is well-regarded; his arm is weak but he has excellent range.”

          Manuel, 2008: “He uses his speed well defensively with above-average range in center field.”

          It’s hard to find any contradictory anecdotal evidence that claims that he doesn’t have good-to-great-to-amazing range in CF as an amateur, collegian, or farmhand.

          And defense has a fundamental difference from offense: it doesn’t naturally decrease as a player is promoted through the organization due to increased difficulty. You can expect a player’s tripleslash to drop as he moves from AAA to the show, because he’s facing better hitters. His defense should be fairly constant, because he’s not facing better grounders or liners or popups.

          So no, Gardner’s big league UZR in a small SSS doesn’t prove that he’s an elite defender. It is, however, extremely persuasive evidence when added to the significant and consistent prior evidence of his superior defensive ability. He’s always been a great defender, and he’s continuing that at the big league level. That’s enough to dismiss worries that his SSS is a fluke.

          If he had been a poor defender before and then put up an astronomical UZR in an SSS, maybe. But Gardner’s thoroughly legit.

    • Bo says:

      Let gardner do what hes good at. Def replacement. Pinch run. Get 300-400 ab’s as the 4th OF. He should not be starting everyday.

  2. pete says:

    It’d be pretty sweet to get him back, but at this point, I’m saying 1/$5 max if I’m cashman. Even that pushes us a little over budget, and while the improvement we get from adding damon is substantial, the need for him is not.

    • mike c says:

      for the life of me i really don’t understand why yankee fans care about the team going “over budget” — is your last name steinbrenner by any chance?

      • Colombo says:

        What worries me is that, if there is a glaring need midseason, a team “over budget” is going to be wary of picking up necessary pieces due to finances, whereas a team “under budget” has room to add payroll if needed.

        If Cashman has a hard budget, staying under it gives him the most wiggle room should the need arise. If the Yankees are just trying to make people believe they have a hard budget, thats a different story.

        • mike c says:

          true, although damon would only strengthen the lineup so it could take a loss and still stay strong. like you said, we don’t really “need” damon, but it’s pretty nice insurance and should be a fun A-lineup to watch play

          • Ed says:

            Damon strengthening the lineup is great if say, Swisher gets hurt midseason. Then we’re all glad Damon is on the team.

            If, say, Burnett gets hurt, we’ll all be upset that the money was spent on Damon, leaving no budget to grab a pitcher.

            • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi says:

              I totally get that there are competing interests – whether to spend money on a position of weakness now or save it in case something goes wrong later – but even in your hypothetical, I think spending the money now makes more sense than saving it, no? If Burnett goes down, the Yankees have a cast of characters, led by Phil Hughes (or Joba if Phil takes the 5th spot in the rotation), who can plug that rotation hole. If Swisher goes down, what’s your outfield look like? Shudder to think.

              I’m not sold on signing Damon this offseason… Obviously that depends on how much money the Yankees have to spend this season and how much Damon would take, as well as what the Yankees think Damon would contribute to this team, etc… But your hypothetical isn’t persuasive, to me, that the Yanks should save the money for an injury later on. The position of (relative) weakness, going into the 2010 season, is the outfield, not the rotation. The rotation doesn’t lack depth the way the outfield does, and I don’t know that there will be any options out there for the Yankees to bring in for 2010 Damon-type money that will perform any better than the in-house solutions, like Hughes.

              • Ed says:

                Yeah, I didn’t present that well.

                Anyway, my point was simple. Injuries are going to pop up, and you can’t predict where, nor can you cover for all of them. Overpaying for Damon now just because you can might result in a bigger hole during the season.

                • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi says:

                  True, but where is that bigger hole going to be, and who are the Yanks going to be able to get for that kind of money?

                  Like I said above, I’m definitely not proposing that the Yanks have to sign Damon right now, I’m just also not so sure that they should forego shoring up the outfield situation, which is, in my opinion, clearly their biggest weakness going into the season since they lack depth out there, in order to save some cash for a hypothetical mid-season transaction. I also think it’s a mistake to assume that they won’t spend money later if they spend it now, since the opening day budget is not necessarily the same as the budget during the season if a need arises.

                  Anyway… I guess, to put it more concisely, what I’m saying is that signing Damon or some other LF option might not be the best choice right now, but it’s not for the reason you’re citing.

      • pete says:

        the budget exists, and therefore exists for a reason. going over budget means that something else must be sacrificed or compromised. It’s hard for me to accept going significantly over the budget (and therefore significantly compromising another area of the team or organization) for something that is not a necessity.

      • Stryker says:

        yankee fans care about the team going “over budget” mostly not because of the financial aspect. obviously we’re not the ones signing the checks. yankees fans care about the team going over budget because if they’re absolutely maxed out before the season even starts, it makes things very, very hard if there’s an opportunity that comes up during the season or if there is a hole that needs to be addressed due to injury or whatever.

        think of it this way: you spend almost all of your available money on building and furnishing a house. this leaves you with absolutely no money if you REALLY wanted to upgrade that mediocre tv of yours or your faucets leak and need a plumber to come and fix them.

        damon at this point is nothing but a luxury to the yankees. spending so you’re at the limit is never a smart idea.

      • for the life of me i really don’t understand why yankee fans care about the team going “over budget” — is your last name steinbrenner by any chance?

        For the life of me I really don’t understand why Yankee fans don’t understand why other Yankee fans care about the team going overbudget.

        No, Pete’s last name is not Steinbrenner. However, Pete knows that the people who actually do write the checks are named Steinbrenner. And, since those people named Steinbrenner DO care about the budget, and wouldn’t sign every single player they dream about because they DO have a real budget, Pete similarly does not advocate signing every single player Pete dreams about because Pete knows his dreams wouldn’t be realistic.

        Pete cares about the budget not because he’s personally signing the checks, but because Pete knows the checks are real, the budget is real, and thus, any plan of action Pete calls for is rooted in reality. Pete cares because Pete understands that violating or dismissing budgetary restraint has real negative long-term consequences. Consequences that may mean that future players Pete really does want to come here don’t end up in pinstripes because the team has already allocated those dollars toward lesser players in the present.

        • mike c says:

          yeah i guess. but going a couple million bucks over budget in order to bring back one of your best hitters short-term to help win another championship isn’t a waste of money– nor in my opinion does it handicap the team. just curious– do you have 2009 NYY revenue statistics?

          • Stryker says:


            and the way i see it – the yankees shouldn’t feel the need to bring back damon because they traded for granderson – someone who is 10 years younger and puts forth superior defense with similar production on offense.

            • pete says:

              i think he meant revenue stats, as in how much they made. I heard somewhere that they made their first substantial profit in some time, but even if we had their exact revenue, we couldn’t assume their payroll budget from that, because that payroll doesn’t include FO, labor, stadium operations, IFA, draft, and scouting budgets.

              • A.D. says:

                Well they always say how the team operates at a loss (or around there), but that’s because those number don’t include the YES network revenues (among a few other things), which are substantial. While YES network is all part of the same corporate family, its revenues aren’t in the pool with the physical team.

                Five years ago, 16 teams lost money. In 2007 only three teams–Blue Jays ($1.8 million), Red Sox ($19.1 million), Yankees ($47.3 million)–posted an operating loss. But even those losses are misleading. For the owners of the Yankees and Red Sox, the huge dividends they get from their unconsolidated cable networks more than make up for the teams’ losses.


          • pete says:

            of course not, and I’m only speculating that damon would push them over their budget. Obviously NY is not going to reveal its budget to the public. I’m just going on what cashman has said, which has been that there IS a budget, and by recent indications, they are right around it now.

            Whether you believe that damon is an upgrade over gardner/hoffman or not (most do), having him on the team as an option certainly makes the team better than it currently stands to be. So even if “we’re pretty much set” is a negotiating ploy, it is one because the yankees don’t want to overextend themselves financially. Given that they haven’t already accepted Damon’s relatively “affordable” 2/$20, we can assume that there isn’t $10 million in the budget. From there you could make the argument that because the yanks have stuck to 2/$14, then they have $7 million left in the budget. But they made that offer (and began sticking to it) prior to the Vazquez trade, which added $10 mil to their 2010 payroll. So you could choose to believe either that the yankees made the damon offer with the knowledge that Vazquez was likely to join the team, or independent of that signing. So either they have $7 million left, or they have pretty much no room left. If it’s $7 million and Damon comes down to that price, then by all means, sign him. If it’s pretty much nothing, then you’ve got to cut your ties. The need for Johnny Damon on this team is not enough to throw out the budget.

            • mike c says:

              true that. although I think they could find an extra 3m somewhere in their pockets if it meant matching another teams offer on a 1-year deal :)

            • jsbrendog says:

              isnt melky set to earn between 2-3 mill? so that 7 mill for damon coupled with that melky salary that was traded away equal vjavy’s 10 mill?

              • mike c says:

                melky’s loss is probably outweighed by arod & petitte’s raises

                • jsbrendog says:

                  except they were already on the team and part of the budget.

                  if the frotn office has 7 mnil to spend, they offer it to damon. he says no.

                  then they say we have 7 mil, but javy costs 10 mil, so atl has to take player a, melky, who makes 2-3 mill.

                  arod and pettitte’s raises have nothing to do with it other than being a concrete part of the budget and part of the reason there is only 7 mill.

        • scoopemup says:

          Right on.

  3. FrankFernandez says:

    Are any OF’s his age getting more than one year, apart from Abreu, who had to pay his dues last year? Rejecting 2/14 was even dumber than offering it to him in the first place.

  4. JeffG says:

    I’m a fan of Gardner. I think his defense is that good. That said, I would rather have him as the 4th OF with Damon getting the majority of AB’s. Damon is a much better hitter and I think he will continue to be so.

  5. A.D. says:

    At this point if they do get Damon back, that’s just icing, on the icing on the cake for this offseason.

  6. Jake H says:

    Damon had his chance. I think they should take a hard line with the guy.

  7. Rose says:

    $6M for Damon or he stars in “Cast Away 2: The Return of the Beard”

  8. RKelly39 says:

    It doesn’t appear likely, but …”

    I would be SHOCKED if he isn’t in LF next year. They were already willing to go 10 mil a year at one point, no?

  9. Reggie C. says:

    If Cash thinks Brett Gardner can extend his ’09 first-half numbers for a full season, there’s no need to add JD.

  10. Bo says:

    Not signing Damon will just means they will have to surrender good prospects to get a bat in June.

    Because Gardner is what he is. A solid 4th OF. His bat doesnt play.

    Damon on this team makes too much sense as we all have witnessed esp last yr.

  11. I think that Boras again over played his hand. He thinks Johnny is a 5 tool player, he’s not anymore.. He is a bat with leadoff skills that is it! I think if Johnny want to play in 2010 he need to realize he eaither going to get 5-7mil with another team or come back to the Yankees.. Boras does not good for the older player!! If you are in your prime he will get you a good deal. If not you end up like bobby abreu last season 5.5mil.. It’s your choice Johnny… Have a chance for another ring or be the guy that has changed team every couple of years and a guy with no legacy..

  12. Dave says:

    I really wish CNN would fire Heyman. He is on Boras’s payroll. A sports writer should never be used like Boras uses Heyman.

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