It was for $14 million over two years, which was double – in terms of length and value – what general manager Brian Cashman originally had in mind, but which he believed spoke to the organization's admiration for the veteran Damon.
The offer came a day after the Red Sox announced they'd signed Mike Cameron(notes) for $15.5 million over two years, however, and more than a month after the Angels extended Bobby Abreu's(notes) contract by two years and $19 million.
By opening day 2010, all three outfielders will be 36 or 37 years old. Damon had a better offensive '09 season than Cameron and had a comparable season to Abreu. He also won a World Series, batting .364 against the Phillies after batting .300 in the ALCS.
Thirty minutes after hanging up with Cashman, Boras called back. His counter with two years and $20 million. (Boras said Saturday he never requested of the Yankees a contract of three years, never mind one of four.) He was told the Yankees instead would sign Nick Johnson(notes), whose high OBP and softer demands ($5.5 million for one year) suited them better.
And that is how Johnny Damon, a free agent in name, became a free agent in spirit, as well.
While the Yankees appear to be readying to acquire more pitching (Derek Lowe(notes), Aroldis Chapman, Aaron Harang(notes) are among the options) or saving to bring in another offensive load (Matt Holliday(notes)),
Damon almost certainly feels like his free agency has barely gotten started. Meantime, the Mariners, Yankees, White Sox, Red Sox and Angels have filled outfield and/or DH needs.
"It's like Johnny Damon is fresh into free agency," Boras said. "Everybody needs offense, and this is an offensive player and a good kid."
Without Yankees sentimentality alongside, Damon comes upon a shortened market, with the likes of Holliday, Jason Bay(notes) and Adrian Beltre(notes) also looking for contracts (Holliday and Beltre are Boras clients). A career American Leaguer, Damon made all but four of his starts in the outfield last season for the Yankees. His market should not initially be limited to the American League, though a National League club might be reluctant to test his legs for too long, no matter Damon's allegedly superior genetics.
So, WWJDD now?
Bay seems a phone call away from taking the Mets' offer of four years and about $65 million, reluctant as he seems. Holliday has the Cardinals and, if there are others, they're not talking. The Braves are shopping Lowe and the rest of his contract (three years, $45 million), even though they'd be selling, well, low. If they can unload the contract, then maybe they're in on Holliday, or on Damon.
Even at 36, even with his raggedy arm, Damon will have choices, based on the fact he's one of baseball's gamers, and based on the fact he can still hit. If Bay can't bring himself to hit at Citi Field, why wouldn't the Mets sign Damon? There are possible outfield openings in San Francisco, Detroit,
It won't be the Yankees, which will disappoint Damon. That was his choice, along with theirs. His last eight years – four in Boston, four in New York – were unique, and it will be strange not to have Damon in the middle of that, one way or the other. It's likely he'll find something else to get into the middle of, though. It's his nature.
The latest, from Anthopoulos to Zduriencik …
• The Dodgers' money is tied up in divorce court and the Reds are trying to clear salary. The Aaron Harang talks were doomed from the start.
• Is Bay going to allow the Mets to catch the Phillies? Would he get them close? Would he sell tickets? Maybe it's time for the Mets to get top prospect Fernando Martinez(notes) 600 plate appearances, get everybody else healthy, and wait for the Joe Mauer(notes)/Cliff Lee/Victor Martinez(notes)/Josh Beckett winter.
• The Rangers expect to have clarity on their pending
acquisition of Mike Lowell(notes) (thumb, etc.) by the end of the weekend, for which they still have hope. If that doesn't work, they feel pretty good about the DH market, which still holds the likes of Vladimir Guerrero(notes), Jermaine Dye(notes), Carlos Delgado(notes), Jim Thome(notes), Troy Glaus(notes) and Damon.
• Given Carlos Silva(notes) had come in under the previous regime and his contract was no reflection on them, the current Mariners had gotten used to the idea they might have to eat the final two years of his contract. So, if things get sideways with Milton Bradley(notes), they'll have no problem swallowing that, too. It's why the risk is smaller than it might look.
• The Angels still need a starting pitcher and a bat.
• Into Christmas week, more than one agent marveled that multiple owners can come up with the same contract offers for the same players. "Cookie-cutter offers," one agent said, and for a second consecutive winter. The inference is collusion, of course, and you can be sure the players' union is keeping track.
• The commissioner's new committee on on-field issues should have had at least one member younger than 40 and at least a few more members of color.
- Johnny Damon