Yanks agree to one-year deal with Johnson

Nick Johnson is returning to the Yankees, a move that likely will

end Johnny Damon’s time in New York after four seasons.

Johnson reached a preliminary agreement Friday on a $5.5

million, one-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations

said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement is

not yet complete.

Johnson must pass a physical for the agreement to be

finalized. He can earn about $1 million more in performance bonuses

next year, and the deal includes a 2011 mutual option for at least

$5.5 million with possible escalators.

Damon, who had a key double steal that helped New York beat

Philadelphia in the World Series, became a free agent after

completing a $52 million, four-year contract.

While he was popular with teammates and fans, the Yankees

were concerned about his age (36). The sides also were far apart on

money. Damon was seeking a three-year deal worth at least $39

million, while New York was prepared to go no higher than $18

million to $20 million over two seasons.

Johnson began his career in New York and spent three years

with the Yankees before he was traded to Montreal after the 2003

season in the Javier Vazquez deal. The 31-year-old becomes the

second significant addition to the Yankees during the offseason

following last week’s acquisition of 28-year-old center fielder

Curtis Granderson in a trade from Detroit.

New York has been trying to get younger and save money at the

same time. World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, the Yankees’ 35-year-old

designated hitter, left this week for a $6 million, one-year deal

with the Los Angeles Angels.

Johnson, a first baseman, will become replace Matsui as the

Yankees’ DH and Melky Cabrera appears likely to take over from

Damon in left. Johnson hit a combined .291 for Washington and

Florida last season with eight homers, 62 RBIs, 99 walks, a .426

on-base percentage and a .405 slugging percentage. He figures to

bat second for the Yankees behind Derek Jeter.

While Johnson has had a high on-base percentage throughout

his career, he has been fragile. He has made nine trips to the

disabled list for a sprained right wrist (2000), bruised left wrist

(2002), broken right hand (2003), strained back (2004), broken

cheekbone (2004), bruised right heel (2005), broken right leg (all

of 2007), right wrist surgery (2008) and strained right hamstring

(last season).