The New York Yankees and left fielder Johnny Damon apparently are ready to part ways when the Bronx Bombers, reacting to Damon’s refusal of a two-year, $14 million contract offer, signed free agent first baseman Nick Johnson to a one-year, $5.5 million contract. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman apparently is ready to bid adieu to the popular Damon despite his 107 runs scored during the 2009 season, fourth best in the American League.
The 36 year-old Damon had an outstanding season in 2009, his fourth with the Yankees. In addition to his 107 runs scored, Johnny slugged 24 home runs and drove in 82 r.b.i. to go with 155 hits in 143 games, good for a .282 batting average. His on-base percentage (OBP) and on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS) were a respectful .365 and ..854, respectively, as he slugged .489, having racked up 36 doubles and three triples. Damon also stole 12 bases without being caught.
Johnny Damon’s home run total equaled his career high, when he slugged two-dozen dingers for the Bronx Bombers back in his inaugural Yankees season, in 2006. Before that, Damon achieved near super-star status with the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees’ hated rivals, being part of the 2004 team that broke the 86 year-old “Curse of the Bambino.”
The Red Sox that year won its first World Series championship since Babe Ruth was the best left-hander in baseball who could also lead the major leagues in circuit clouts. In 1919, George Herman Ruth was traded down the Boston Post Road from the Hub to the city that would soon be known as “The Big Apple” after a Roaring Twenties ditty. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee (a friend of the Yankees’ owners who likely bought the team that won World’s Championships in 1915, 1916 and 1918 in order to loot it for the New York cabal, as the Yankees’ owners had financial dealings with him) is still hated in Red Sox Nation, 91 years after the deal.
Damon’s only hope now lies in the Yankees’ need for a third outfielder, now that Melky Cabrera, the center fielder who was slotted to play left in 2010, was traded to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Javier Vazquez. New York may fill that spot with either Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, since Damon’s demands are out of line with what the Yankees are willing to pay.
New York Yankee
Johnny Damon was signed by the Yankees as a free agent after the 2005 season. The Red Sox had offered Damon a three year contract worth about $33 million a year. Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, shopped him to New York, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner — who was still in control of the team, and had a hankering for ex-Red Sox stars (Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens) — offered Damon four years at $13 million a season.
Baseball executives generally believed that the Yankees overpaid to get Damon.
As part of the 2009 New York Yankees, Damon was a vital part of the team that won the World Series, the first for New York since 2000. General Manager Brian Cashman offered Damon a two-year, $14 million contract, a generous offer seeing as that Damon is 36 years old and his offensive contribution to the Yankees likely would be much reduced by 2011, when the contract runs out.
Damon is not a good fielder, and his arm is one of the poorest in the major league. When he played for the Red Sox, the fans said of the then-hirsute Johnny, “Looks like Jesus, hits like God, fields like Mary.” His defensive skills eroded further as he aged with the Yankees.
The fact is, the left-handed-hitting Damon was mostly going to be used as a designated hitter, as the Yankees had let their lefty DH, Hideki Matsui, sign with the Los Angeles Angels. A DH is not worth as much as a position player, and Damon’s defensive skills have eroded to the point where he is a liability in the field.
Super Agent Scott Boras
Johnny Damon is represented by Scott Boras, the super-agent who negotiated Alex Rodriguez’s record contracts with the Yankees and the massive contract the Yankees gave first baseman Mark Tiexeira. (Other baseball players whose talents Boras has parlayed into Lotto-like payouts include Daisuke Matsuzaka and J. D. Drew of the Red Sox and Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants; Boras certainly earn free-agent outfielder Matt Holliday the nickname “Payday” after he signs his new contract.)
Scott Boras and Johnny Damon are not only after the big money, but a three-year contract.
Boras demanded that the Yankees re-sign Damon at his present salary, something akin to three years at $39 million, which is one year longer and $25 million more than the World’s Champions aim to give him. The super-agent claimed publicly that Yankee captain (and future Hall of Famer) Derek Jeter’s success in 2009 as a lead-off hitter came because Johnny Damon was hitting behind him. Incredibly, Boras said that “whatever the Yankees plan on doing with Jeter long-term, Damon deserves similar consideration.”
By signing Nick Johnson, the Yankees have eroded the ground that Boras and Johnny stand on.
Nick Johnson, who is five years younger than Damon, had a much better on-base percentage, .426, for the two teams he played with, the Florida Marlins and the Washington Nationals. He outhit Damon (.291) and though he had only one-third as many home-runs, he drove in 62 r.b.i. in 133 games. Johnson averaged one hit per game and scored 71 runs.
Johnson represents a good, low-cost option to serve as a left-handed DH. Johnson also can play first base if Mark Tiexeria needs a day off.
Scott Boras played the same game of brinksmanship with the Boston Red Sox over a new contract for team captain Jason Varitek after the 2008 season. The free agent Varitek rejected a an offer of arbitration from the Sox, a deal that likely would have given him close to the $10 million in salary that he made in 2008.
Incredibly, Boras used as his benchmark for a new deal for Varitek the four year-long, $52.4 million contract he had obtained from the New York Yankees for catcher Jorge Posada, a player with much better offensive stats than Varitek, who had slumped at the plate.
Jason Varitek wound up signing for one year at $5 million, with a $3 million option for 2010. Scott Boras had badly miscalculated his client’s worth. He might be making the same mistake with Johnny Damon.
Hall of Fame
With 2,425 hits in his career, Johnny Damon has an outside shot at 3,000 hits and a berth in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Damon also has scored 1,483 runs in his career, an average of 113 per season over a 162-game season in his 15 season career. In four years, averaging 150 hits a year and 100 runs, Damon would have 3,000 hits and 1,900 runs, Hall of Fame numbers.
Damon already ranks 71st all-time on the career runs list. Breaching 1,900 runs would put him in the Top 10. However, these numbers depend on Damon’s remaining healthy and productive to age 40. If his hitting and base-running erodes, a major league team might not hold on to him as he is a defensive liability, and no one needs a light hitting DH who lacks 30-homer power.
The truth is, Johnny Damon needs to stay on the New York Yankees if he hopes to get into the Hall of Fame. Playing in the showcase that is the Big Apple — America’s greatest media market and the center of the world — and playing in the post-season, as is the birthright of a Yankee, boosts a player’s chances of enshrinement in Cooperstown.
It seems that Johnny Damon.is determined to go where the money is — and hold out for a longer-term contract than the Yankees are willing to offer. And who can blame him? For the truth is, the Yankees are so rich in capital they can afford to replace Damon with a better player at will. Even if Damon should resign with the Yankees, he might not end his career in the Bronx — or even his new contract. If he is kept in the Bronx, he might be relegated to a part-time, bench player, and the Hall will be out of reach for Johnny Damon.
Bleacher Report: “Johnny Damon Needs the New York Yankees More Than They Need Him”
Fantasy Players.com: “Damon a Victim of Greed in Today’s Baseball”
NBC Sports: “Report: Yankees sign Johnson to DH”
New York Daily News: “Whether it’s from New York Yankees or not, Johnny Damon sees big pay day”
New York Times: “In Signing Nick Johnson, Yankees Turn Johnny Damon Away”