The Yankees clearly are not Johnny Damon's first choice for 2011 employment, which makes sense. Although they have expressed interest in bringing back Damon for next season, as Newsday reported Wednesday, they don't have a clear everyday role for him.
Yet the Yankees rank as one of Damon's three top choices at the moment - along with the Rays and Angels, according to an industry source. And given the finances of each team, it's quite possible the Yankees would be willing to pay Damon more for a part-time position than Tampa Bay would for a full-time job.
Tampa Bay, having lost Carl Crawford to the Red Sox through free agency, has youngster Desmond Jennings ready to step in as Crawford's replacement. But the Rays could use more certainty on offense.
The Rays' DH position became a liability in 2010, totaling a lowly .322 on-base percentage and .391 slugging percentage. Damon, 37, had a .355 OBP and .401 SLG overall. He could contribute in leftfield and at designated hitter.
Because Damon makes his home in the Orlando area, playing for Tampa Bay would be particularly tempting for him.
The Rays, however, already have announced that they'll be cutting their payroll by about $15 million to $20 million from their 2010 total of $72 million. A good amount of that has been accomplished with the free-agent departures of Crawford, Carlos Peña (to the Cubs) and the not-yet-signed Rafael Soriano. But with raises factored in for arbitration-eligible players, Tampa Bay doesn't have much money to spend.
The Angels lost free agent Hideki Matsui, Damon's former Yankees teammate, to Oakland and whiffed on Crawford, their top free-agent target. They're looking for an outfielder/DH who can add some offense, and they have some spending power, too.
The Yankees view Damon as someone who could get a few starts a week between the outfield and DH. But given Damon's history as an everyday player and his quest for 3,000 hits - he currently has 2,571 hits - the Yankees are skeptical that Damon will join them.
Yet the two sides have discussed financial parameters, and although Damon wouldn't make anything close to the $8 million the Tigers paid him in 2010, he could receive a respectable paycheck from the Yankees - given the role they have in mind for him.