Monday, December 05, 2005

The Johnny Damon Conundrum

From the Rhode Island Providence Journal:

There were unconfirmed reports last night that the Yankees had made Damon a three-year, $39-million offer.

That’s just an (unconfirmed) offer, one that Damon and agent Scott Boras could very well balk at. But the center field situation has become so dire that I’m actually pondering this one, which would pay Damon $13 million a season, the same amount for which Hideki Matsui recently re-signed.

I have been rather adamant in the past with my “please, no Damon!” campaign, but I have to stop and think about this deal. Really, it boils down to available funds. If Steinbrenner decides that he’s going to continue to pour money into personnel, I can see doing it. If, however, this brings the team anywhere near some unknown George Salary Cap, I would nix it in a second.

The luxury of being the Yankees means the ability to spend exorbitant amounts of money on players that other teams can’t afford. It means the team can take gambles on high-priced attractions.

At three years, Damon could be a worthwhile acquisition. He has plenty of upside, and the contract will expire when Damon turns 35, and by that time the team should have a good idea about the rate of his decline.

Chances are, though, that this deal will be rejected outright. Boras has been adamant in his stance that Damon deserves a seven-year deal, and likely will settle for nothing less than five. In that case, I couldn’t advocate signing him at all. But three years seems too enticing to just throw out the window (unless you’re my father, who doesn’t want Damon out of principle).

And you know what? I don’t want to inundate the Yankees roster with former Red Sox, either. But this is a solution to the center field problem that doesn’t involve sacrificing prospects (though it would mean a draft pick forfeited to the Sox, which is basically a prospect). There is little chance that Damon’s skills will diminish abruptly over the next three years. This is also a plus for the Melky fans out there, as this will give him adequate time to develop in the minors. He could enter the majors in the third year of Damon’s deal, a year in which management shouldn’t hesitate to give him some time in the outfield.

For the downside, once again, it could be payroll crippling. Remember, though, that Moose’s gi-normous contract comes off the books following this year, as does Sheffield’s (should the Yankees not exercise his option, which I figure they actually will by July). Actually, the only way I wouldn’t sign Damon to a 3-year, $39 million contract is if it would inhibit future spending. Period. Other than that, I think it could work.

And I know there are about a billion dissenters out there.