So Johnny Damon is signing with the Yankees. This is a shock, really. As recently as this morning, people like Buster Olney and other respected baseball experts were convinced that the only reason Scott Boras was talking to the Yanks about Damon was to drive up the price that the Red Sox would eventually, inevitably, pay to bring Damon back to Boston. So what happened?
When it all comes down to it, should we really be that surprised? It’s not like Damon was a lifelong Boston man — he spent six years with the Royals and one with the A’s before coming to the Sox for the past four seasons. And at 32 years old and coming off of two pretty darn impressive offensive seasons, his value is never going to be higher than it is right now, especially considering the weak free agent class. According to the article by Olney that I linked to earlier, the Yankees had given Boras a deadline: make up your mind by midnight tonight, or we are trading for Corey Patterson. With the Yankees and Red Sox the only major players in the Damon Sweepstakes, the Yankees pulling out would have given all the negotiating leverage to the Red Sox. So basically, Damon and Boras had to decide, by tonight, whether to stick with the Red Sox or go to the Yankees.
I don’t know what the dollar figures were, but I have to assume that the Red Sox would have been willing to pay as much (or almost as much) as the $52 million over four years that the Yanks gave him. I just don’t believe that, when all is said and done, this was a financial decision for Damon. You’d think his heart would be in Boston, after helping lead them to the curse-breaking World Championship two seasons ago. But look at that team from 2004: Pedro is gone; Millar and Mueller are gone; Schilling is not the same; Manny wants out. The times, they are a-changin’, and Johnny Damon realized one big thing: he has a better chance of winning another World Series in the Bronx than in Boston. In New York, he will be playing with potential future Hall of Famers in the prime (or near-prime) of their careers: A-Rod and Derek Jeter have never been better, and Gary Sheffield continues to produce against all odds. Jason Giambi may really be back, and Hideki Matsui is extremely solid and determined to get better. Round out that lineup with Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, and someone at DH/first base with Giambi, and the Yankees are poised to score about a billion runs next season. If they can get any sort of pitching from a talented staff that was very disappointing last season, they could very easily win their first World Series since 2000.
I go back and forth on the Yankees, but adding Johnny Damon definitely makes it easier for me to root for them. I like the fact that they didn’t blow him away monetarily, that it is apparently actually the direction of the organization that appealed to him. I like the fact that Brian Cashman was patient and refused to further deplete his already-weak farm system to make a splash this winter. If they can continue to build that farm system and keep their contracts reasonable for the next several years, they have a very good four years ahead of them with Damon, A-Rod, Jeter, and Matsui all locked up.
This is a shocking deal, but it really makes sense to me. As a big Johnny Damon fan, I am happy that he was in a position to choose what he saw as a great deal. I feel bad for the Red Sox, and I wonder if David Ortiz will spend all next season looking for familiar faces in the locker room, but I am happy for Johnny.