Buster Olney has an interesting account of the Johnny Damon negotiations that I am inclined to believe. He suggests that Damon was the Yankees’ Plan A in left and at the 2 slot in the lineup, but simply kept rejecting offers that were commensurate to his value at the time. There are a few relevant excerpts here, but I would like to include the caveat that Damon’s camp would likely dispute some of the details, and suggest the Yankees never actually made an offer. Keeping that in mind, here is Buster’s account of the talks:
Well, in the hours after the Granderson trade was completed, they moved to seriously engage Damon in talks, and — as reported on ESPN.com at the time — they were told over and over: If you’re going to offer a contract that represents a decrease in salary, don’t bother to make an offer. Damon, himself, told the Yankees that directly. If you want to cut my salary, talk to the hand….
They believed that Damon didn’t have offers along that the lines that Boras was talking about, but they didn’t know for sure — the Red Sox can speak to that experience, having lost out on Mark Teixeira — and the Yankees’ offer to make offers wasn’t even being entertained.
So they moved on, pursuing Nick Johnson, who had the highest on-base percentage of any free agent — and they had to move fast, because Johnson was deep into negotiations with the Giants. Johnson was the Yankees’ Plan B to Damon, and given that their Plan A wasn’t even willing to talk, they reached an agreement on a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Johnson.
It wasn’t until after word of Johnson’s impending deal broke that Damon’s side indicated a willingness to barter, and the Yankees did talk about a two-year concept — which was immediately rejected. But at that point, having reached a verbal agreement with Johnson, the team’s priorities had shifted…
Last week, Damon reached out to the Yankees, wanting to talk, and so the Yankees again re-engaged the left fielder, offering the money they had left they had under the budget that was set before the winter meetings. Even then, however, they were told that Damon had other options, including multi-year offers. They were told he wanted more than the $6 million package in salary and incentives that the Yankees were willing to pay.
This account of events sounds authentic to me, if only because it fits what we have heard about Boras and his method of negotiation. He likes to set a high bar to open negotiations, threatening to not even come to the table unless certain demands are met. In this case, that gambit likely cost his client a 2 year deal, as the Yankees decided to move on to Plan B so they could focus on adding a starting pitcher. Then, after Boras read the market again and realized he had overplayed his hand, Damon came back to the Yankees offering to take a much smaller deal than the one the Yankees had considered offering him previously. Yet instead of returning with a conciliatory attitude, Boras continued to play his “mystery team” games, and once again the Yankees moved on.
It will be interesting to see how much Damon gets from whoever signs him for 2010. It seems that Scott Boras plays a very dangerous game, making outrageous claims and spreading rumors of nonexistent offers so as to scare teams into caving on demands from a player they covet. Often, this results in his player getting an above market deal from a club that had no real competition for a player’s services (see Holliday, Matt). However, on occasion, the target club will see through Boras’ machinations and will simply refuse to budge on their offer or will move on to their next option. This leaves the client without a deal from the club that he wanted to play for, as is likely the situation in the case of Johnny Damon. Such is the risk of signing on with Scott Boras.