After the disappointing 2008 season, if you had said that the Yankees would resign Johnny Damon after his contract would run out in 2009, most people would have thought you crazy.
Not that Damon played poorly. Not at all. In fact, his numbers generally, across the board were as good, or better than his career averages.
No. It had more to do with the perception of the Yankees after their subpar 89-win season. After 2008, the general consensus was that the Yankees were old, slow and brittle—the complete opposite of the AL-winning Tampa Rays. And to that end, Damon was one of the perceived culprits. He had been moved from center field to left field in Yankee Stadium (he had a -15 tally on Bill James rating system for centerfielders from 2005 to 2007) and wasn't considered an ideal fielder to cover the cavernous ground out in Death Valley. He had a chicken arm, and wasn't a threat to throw out your grandmother taking the extra base. And, he missed time to due foot and shoulder injuries.
So, with the Yankees feeling they had to get younger, faster and more durable, considering Damon to be a Yankee past 2009, seeming like a non-starter.
However, with the new season brings a new perspective. The 2009 Yankees, rebuilt, are cruising. And with their resurgence, comes a Johnny Damon who seems reborn. Or at least playing for a new contract.
Switched to batting second, Damon is on pace for a career high in HRs, RBI, Slugging percentage, OPS and walks. And while he will never be mistaken for Willie Mays in the outfield, he does have 6 assists, and is at the least, holding his own in the OF.
The blog, Pinstripe Alley recently posed the question of what should the Yankees do with Damon in 2010. To that end, Damon has publicly stated he'd like to return. And if a deal was short and relatively market price (and not Yankee-priced), the Yankees would probably be amenable. Why, with Damon aging, youngsters waiting to fill his spot, and the free agent market beckoning, would the Yankees consider resigning him?
Firstly, with Matsui most likely not returning, the DH spot would open up—which would give more options to play Damon’s bat without subjecting the Yankees to his arm out in LF every day. Both Posada, Damon and sometimes, Rodriguez can rotate through the DH spot giving the Yankees some flexibility.
Plus there is the question of the instability of the outfield. With Austin Jackson batting well in AAA, should he have a good spring, the Yankees might try him in CF, but that can’t be counted upon. Is Brett Gardnet or Melky Cabrera the long-term answer? And if Jackson does come up, would Girardi move Cabrera or possibly Gardner to...where exactly, LF, RF? Nady is most likely not resigned, but would the Yankees prefer Cabrera in RF over Swisher and relegate Swisher and Gardner to utility status? Or would they Cabrera move to LF and have Damon fill the DH spot on a regular basis? And what about the rumors that the Yankees would be making a play for Matt Holliday?
By resigning Johnny Damon, the Yankees would give themselves—something Girardi loves, and somwthing they can afford to give themselves—options. And Damon's bat is a very good option. By next year, the Yankees can protect themselves from Damon's arm and declining fielding skills to some degree—no matter what they decide to do in the outfield, be it Austin Jackson, Matt Holliday or whomever. Damon can DH, or spot start in the outfield, or fill in should someone get injured. His bat more than makes up for any declining skills he may have in the limited time he would be on the field. Singing Damon to a 1-year contract with an option makes the most sense. It gives the Yankees the flexibility they could use and keeps a good hitter and a good clubhouse influence in Pinstripes for a couple more years.