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Jan 012010

As Left Fielder upon Left Fielder after Left Fielder have all been signed in recent weeks, and the price tag on Matt Holliday appearing to be way out of the Yankees price range, there’s a natural tendency among many Yankee fans to think that the Yanks have a trump card that they’re waiting to play to fill that Left Field vacancy. That trump card of course, is named Johnny Damon. These folks never believe the Yanks when they claim to have a budget of any kind. They will cite Brian Cashman maintaining that Bubba Crosby was his starting CF right up to the day he signed Johnny Damon the first time around, and the ‘fantasy land’ comments he made regarding Mark Teixeira last year as evidence to back up this claim.

It’s time to give up the ghost. TYU fave Mark Fiensand crunched the numbers on the 2010 payroll and found the reason why the Yanks have been so quiet since the Javy Vasquez deal. They’re tapped out if they want to inch payroll down next year, as Yankee GM Brian Cashman has maintained all winter.

Now, when people say they don’t believe what Brian Cashman says, I have no problem with that. For me, what any GM or agent says about prospective Free Agents should always be taken with a very large grain of salt. It’s much smarter to look at what they do, not what they say. When deciding if the Yanks are in on a player, I always start by looking at the estimated payroll, and their recent track record in terms of spending. That’s why I never believed that they weren’t laying in the weeds on Mark Teixeira. They had a need on the roster and were in the mid-180′s payroll wise when he was still available. But as Feinsand details, that isn’t the case now. The Yanks are at roughly 202 mil for their Opening Day payroll right now. They did inch payroll down by almost 8 mil last year, so when they claim to be dedicated to lowering payroll it’s credible. They have been around 200 mil since Brian took over control of Baseball ops in late 2005, with an uptick when the ownership situation was unsettled in 07-08 and the A-Rod contract (that Brian didn’t support) was signed.

Brian also appears to prefer the flexibility of leaving LF open for future considerations. I suspect this is one of the main reasons why he’s held firm on a 1 year deal for Johnny, which always struck me as unrealistic if he really wanted to retain him. When Brian Cashman first became GM in 1997, he was assembling rosters that included the likes of Ricky LeDee, Chad Curtis and (a washed up) Chuck Knobloch as the Yankee Opening Day starting Left Fielder. The team didn’t have a star in Left until George Steinbrenner took back control of the team in 2003 and signed Hideki Matsui. Signing Johnny to a 2 year deal could prevent you from acquiring a big CF or RF down the road, should one become available. They may also want to get a look at Derek Jeter out there at some point over the next two seasons, especially with his contract expiring next year. Few players get to stay SS full time in the major leagues past the age of 36. Alex is a possibility as well, coming off hip surgery you may prefer to move Derek to 3B and shift Alex to Left. With all the questions about Jesus Montero as a Catcher, he’s a possibility out there as well. For all of you Carl Crawford lovers, he could become available mid season should the Rays fall out of the pennant race. In any case, I think I’ve established that we have numerous reasons to leave the position open for future considerations. It gives you tremendous flexibility, and GMs love to have options.

We covered the finances, we covered roster flexibility, so now now lets examine need. The DH role where Johnny figured to spend many days in 2010 has been filled by Nick Johnson. I’m with EJ in thinking that Brett Gardner will be our starting CF, which moves Granderson to Left. Even if the Yanks don’t go in that direction, a platoon of Hoffman/Gardner in Left will be fine, given the rest of our lineup. As Dave Cameron at FanGraphs discussed last week, the marginal value of a win declines when you have a roster like the Yanks have right now. Is LF potentially still open? Yes. Do we NEED to sign a LF to win? Absolutely not.

There’s another thing to consider when discussing Johnny Damon. There’s a thought process among the Yankee brass that you wouldn’t want Johnny back at a big salary cut. Cashman has been quoted numerous times saying exactly that. Don’t forget what happened back in 2007. Joe Torre detailed in his book The Yankee Years that Johnny came into camp badly out of shape and was contemplating retirement. He went on to have an awful 1st half and a sub par season. Both he and the Yanks might be better off if Johnny got a fresh start somewhere else.

11 Responses to “We’re not bringing Johnny back”

  1. Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for reading.  (Quote)

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  2. I dont really care about losing Damon for the seaon in terms of losing a few wins versus Gardner or whoever we might put out there. That is not the point. The point is that Damon can still hit elite pitching and may be worth a couple of wins in the playoffs.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    Do we know that Nick Johnson and/or Curtis Granderson won’t be worth a few wins in October? Or, in terms of payroll space, Javier Vasquez? Brian made the right move not giving in to Johnny’s 2-24 demand. The current roster is younger, cheaper and deeper in starting pitching. I’d rather have this team than one with Matsui and Damon on it for the same $.  (Quote)

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  3. The whole argument that Damon wouldn’t want to come back on a deeply cut salary and the fear that he won’t perform as a result is complete BS and a cover for any GM to justify not bringing someone back. Plenty of players have come back on discounted salaries and done just fine. Damon is a professional and I won’t let what Torre said in his book influence what is basic logic. Torre had an agenda so his words should be taken with a grain of salt.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    I agree with that, although I am conflicted on the whole Damon returning thing. On one end, it seems like the market has conspired to bring the two sides together. On the other, as Steve said, it really seems like they are sticking to this budget.  (Quote)

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  4. Johnny was out as far as I was concerned, no defense. The OF with CG, Brett and Swisher is better able to handle defense (save us runs) and will more then likely be as good (if not better) offensively. I agree, on a much weaker team, Brett would be the 4th OF’d…maybe! This is not a weak team and therefore, they can use Brett to patrol CF and help save a game here and there…I like this OF.
    Happy New Year everyone!  (Quote)

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  5. Johnny was out as far as I was concerned, no defense. The OF with CG, Brett and Swisher is better able to handle defense (save us runs) and will more then likely be as good (if not better) offensively. I agree, on a much weaker team, Brett would be the 4th OF’d…maybe! This is not a weak team and therefore, they can use Brett to patrol CF and help save a game here and there…I like this OF.
    Happy New Year everyone!  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  6. I don’t think it’s fair to say they are really sticking to a budget. First, none of us truly know what the budget is. We can (probably) fairly assume that Holliday didn’t fit the budget, but even that we cannot be sure of. It could be more that Cashman doesn’t feel that spending now is wise, which I tend to agree with. Locking into numerous long term deals is not a smart ploy, as eventually there will be not much production from 100 million dollars worth of players. Secondly, and most importantly, in the age of fantasy baseball, we fans forget just how much of a business this is, and what a million or two here or there really means. It is still a million fricken dollars! The negotiations dealing with Damon are going to be handled differently then other players because of his agent. I believe that simply saying, “We aren’t willing to negotiate because it’s over our budget” is the smarter play then saying, “We still have interest.” Both say the same thing, “We want you back,” but are said in two different ways. The first one allows for Damon and Boras to come back and say, “Johnny really wants to play for you for 9 million,” at which time Cashman can say, “Well, I MIGHT be able to do 5 million” and they settle on 6.5 or 7. The second allows Boras to say, “we know you guys want him, but to sit down it starts at 11 for a year.”

    I think Damon still comes back, and this is all just a negotiating ploy. Cashman will not trade for Crawford; paying twice is not his way, especially to the team that will be challenging for the division. Cash also won’t tie up a two year commitment; if that is what it takes, he will tell Damon that he has to say no. In the end, I think the Braves are the last chance for the two year deal, and I think that is a long shot. If it comes down to him accepting a one year deal, ala Abreu, would Damon rather take a 1 year from the Yankees, his preferred destination, a perennial winner, and a familiar place that plays well to his hitting style, or a 1 year deal from a team like the Braves where he has to learn knew pitching, new area, new clubhouse, etc…  (Quote)

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    Ballpark Reply:

    Jay makes some great points.I also think Damon comes back.However i do not think yanks need him.  (Quote)

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  7. I simply can’t agree with this sentiment.

    Who else has shown a shred of interest in Damon? Until someone else does, it’s only fair to wonder if he’ll return to the Yankees. I’m sorry, but a Gardner/Hoffmann platoon blows in comparison. Using something from 2007 to support your thesis? What?  (Quote)

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  8. The offseason is a fluid situation.
    I do not think Yanks are done regardless of what they say about their self imposed budget.History has shown they will spend for the right player at the right price.We are not even shore what the number is. For luxury tax purposes salaries are avg over length of contract.that number is 176 mil for 14 players.Fiensand was 194 mil f
    or 14 players.The Yanks can crunch the numbers any way they want,its all about negotiating.
    Cashman is still hunting and it could be big or small.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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