Friday, January 29, 2010

Will Yankees regret dumping Damon?

Full disclosure: Here at River & Sunset, we're going to seriously miss us some Johnny Damon.

Losing his production hurts, that's a given. But we'll also miss the bad hair, the goofy fan interactions, the off-kilter Kim Jones interviews, the unintentionally hilarious throwing motion, and the way he never seemed to take anything too seriously—no small feat in a Yankees clubhouse that once made the Sistine Chapel seem like an ASU frathouse.

Damon represented the franchise quite well in the post-10/20 world. Throw in the fact that he's the author of one of the most famous plays in recent Yankees history, and you realize Damon earned every dime of that four-year contract. He was the Anti-Pavano of the aughts.

That's all over now, though, as Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees' braintrust decided they'd rather part ways with a 36-year-old with bum calves a year-too-early rather than a year-too-late.

There seems to be a prevailing opinion within Yankee Universe that this was an egregious error by management. That's certainly possible. Damon was one of New York's leading run producers in '09 (82 RBI, 107 runs), and he's had at least 600 plate appearances in 12 straight seasons.

He is, as they say, a grinder.

To compound the fan base's worries, the Yankees essentially replaced one of their most popular players with the tandem of Nick Johnson and Randy Winn. There hasn't been a tag team this underwhelming since the Bushwhackers.

The real shame is that it never felt like the player or team wanted things to end this way. Unfortunately, that's the danger of having Scott Boras as your agent. His insane posturing—especially early in the process—has the ability to poison negotiations.

The example in this case came just a week after the Yankees rolled down the Canyon of Heroes. Boras balked at the idea of Damon taking a pay cut (he made $13 million in '09, a figure the Yankees weren't willing to pay even half of going forward) and he went on to favorably compare his client to Derek Jeter. The Derek Jeter.

"That is a 1-2 combo that relied on one another," said Boras, clearly under the influence of a powerful psychotic drug.

Damon now seems destined for the role that Bobby Abreu grudgingly took on during last year's free agency period—the aging-but-still-productive outfielder who misreads the market, gets screwed, and is forced to settle for a one-year deal.

It all ended well for Abreu, who parlayed a strong season with the Angels into a $19 million guaranteed contract. Damon, who is a year older than Abreu, would do well to follow the template of his former teammate.

Cashman, just as he did with Abreu, comes off as a particularly cold-blooded mother here. He never backed off, refusing to give Boras even an inch as the days turned into months. Cashman steadfastly maintained the Yanks were on a strict budget, saying at one point that there simply wasn't enough money in their piggy bank for a player of Damon's stature.

This is patently ridiculous, of course, seeing as Hal Steinbrenner is (probably) swimming in a pool of gold coins as you read this. I guess sometimes you have no choice but to take billion dollar companies at their word.

As you surely remember, Cashman has played the "I'm Broke" card before. The GM said the Yankees were tapped last December, shortly before he slid $180 million into the coin slot of the Teixeira-3000. As legend has it, Cashman implored management to make a budgetary exception to land Teixeira. When the suits relented, the Yankees landed their next great first baseman.

It's likely Cash could've played this card again to bring back Damon. However, it's equally possible Cashman wanted to save that ploy for a bigger fish down the road. Maybe he looked ahead at Jeter's impending contract negotiations and a potentially loaded 2011 free-agent class and said, "Ummm, I think I'll keep this bullet in my chamber."

Don't put anything past SeƱor Cash. I wouldn't leave him alone with my girlfriend...or Joe Mauer's agent.

As for Damon, it came down to a business decision, and let's hope he realizes that when he's playing fly balls of the cat walk at Tropicana Field. When he finally does makes it back to the Bronx as a visitor, I can guarantee the fans will let him know he was appreciated. We always remember the good ones.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

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