Damon, Yankees need to give a little

BY Ken Rosenthal • December 17, 2009

I like the idea of the Yankees signing Nick Johnson, but only if they re-sign Johnny Damon, too.

This silliness needs to stop.

Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, need to realize that Damon is 36, not 26. The Yankees need to realize that they are not some mid-market club, but a big-money behemoth that can pay a little more or a lot more, depending upon their mood.

The addition of Johnson as the team’s primary designated hitter doesn't preclude the return of Damon as a left fielder/DH. At least it shouldn’t, unless the Yankees are truly on a budget-slashing kick. At this point, I almost feel like taking up a collection for them.

Johnson reportedly will cost the same as Granderson in 2010 - $5.5 million. The Yankees gave left-hander Andy Pettitte a raise from $10.5 million to $11.75 million. Damon is starting at a higher number -- $13 million -- but why not give him a two-year deal at that salary? The Yankees could trade right fielder Nick Swisher and still claim they’re minding the budget, not that anyone buys their little game of pretend.

General manager Brian Cashman was at his best last offseason when he money-whipped the rest of baseball and bought three of the best players on the market -- left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira. Obviously, the Yankees can’t spend nearly half a billion every winter. But for Damon, they can give a little, just as they did for Pettitte.

Of course, Damon and Boras need to give more.

We all get it, Scott: Damon is consistent. Damon is durable. Damon, batting second, is a benefit to the Yankees’ leadoff man, Derek Jeter.

But really, what rational individual believes that Damon will be as good from 36 to 39 as he was from 32 to 35? And really, would Damon rather go somewhere else simply for an extra year on his contract? He is tremendously popular in New York, just as he was in Boston. Yet, he’s on the verge of blowing it.

Cooler heads need to prevail, on both sides. Damon’s best deal will be with the Yankees. And if Yankees lose Damon on top of Hideki Matsui, they will be losing too much.

Much as a successful business needs institutional memory, the Yankees need players who A) are proven in the post-season and B) proven in New York.

Damon and Matsui qualify on both counts.

Exchanging them for Johnson and Curtis Granderson might be a wash statistically -- Johnson’s career OPS, when adjusted for his park and league, actually is higher than Matsui’s, and Granderson’s actually is higher than Damon’s. But c’mon, which players would you rather see in October?

The equation, of course, is not that simple -- Granderson, 28, is 7 1/2 years younger than Damon, and Johnson, 31, is four years younger than Matsui. The Yankees cannot re-sign Damon at any price; they already have too much money committed to older players. Yet, they also cannot underestimate the importance of a player with Damon’s skill, experience and moxie.

That great at-bat Damon had in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series, followed by his brilliant steals of second and third on the same pitch ... few players are savvy enough to pull off such a sequence. Nothing against Johnson and Granderson – they will be fine additions. But the Yankees would be foolish to mess with too much with their collective DNA.

Swisher, 29, is the right guy to move; he will not improve much on his 29-homer, 82-RBI season, and his over-the-top gregariousness eventually will wear thin. The Braves love Swish, and would love even more to obtain him for right-hander Derek Lowe. The Yankees should pass on that idea – Lowe turns 37 on June 1 and has not pitched in the American League since 2004. Swisher for prospects would be a better move, and the Yankees then could sign some innings eater at a reasonable price to be their No. 4 starter.

I’ve got no problem with the Yankees refusing to give Damon big money for three or four years. I’ve also got no problem with Boras advocating for his client and trying to suck every last dollar out of the biggest money-making machine in sports. It’s business, and we’ve all become accustomed to the familiar off-season song-and-dance.

Well, enough already.

Damon needs the Yankees, and the Yankees need Damon.

Get it done.

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