The Yankees have known for more than a month — since they agreed to terms with Nick Johnson on Dec. 17 — that Johnny Damon was a long shot to return. Yesterday, with the commitment to Randy Winn, that long shot turned into a virtual no-shot.
Winn, 35, agreed to a one-year, $2-million contract with the Yankees, pending a physical examination. A switch hitter, he’ll serve primarily as the righthanded component of a platoon with Brett Gardner, either in leftfield or in centerfield (with Curtis Granderson shifting to left).
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With this signing, the Yankees have exhausted their budget for 2010, keeping it just under the $200-million mark. General manager Brian Cashman repeatedly stressed to free-agent outfielders, including Damon, that he had no more than $2 million to spend after adding Johnson, Granderson and Javier Vazquez and re-signing Andy Pettitte.
“The Yankees all along have said they had $2 million, and that obviously removed them out of the marketplace of a lot of talented players. We really did not have a lot to talk about,” Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, told The Associated Press. “Johnny knew what their budget was, so there was never any expectancy. The Yankees could never make an offer because they knew Johnny’s performance value far exceeded what their budget was.”
Damon’s top suitor, at the moment, is the A’s, who have made him a one-year offer for about $7 million. However, it appears that returning to Oakland doesn’t appeal greatly to Damon; his one season there, 2001, can be regarded as one of his worst in the major leagues.
So Damon, who began the offseason not wanting to take a cut from his $13-million salary, might take a little longer to decide on his future. The New York Post reported that the Rays have expressed interest in signing Damon; the Braves have indicated a willingness to sign him for about $2 million; and it’s believed another unidentified team has entered the mix as well.
As it turned out for the Yankees, Damon presented the one surprise in their offseason game plan. They very much wanted to retain Pettitte and didn’t want to bring back Hideki Matsui. They also wanted to re-sign Damon, but at a price similar to the two-year, $19-million contract that Bobby Abreu signed with the Angels.
However, the Yankees never sensed that Damon would have been amenable to such a figure until they already had committed to Johnson.
In signing Winn, the Yankees certainly bought low, because Winn put up a brutal 2009 season for the Giants. In 597 plate appearances, he compiled a .318 on-base percentage and .353 slugging percentage. Against lefty pitching, he put up a .184 OBP and .200 SLG in 125 plate appearances.
His defense still rated high, however, and the Yankees can point to Winn’s performance against lefties in 2008 (.343 OBP, .470 SLG) and 2007 (.399 OBP, .535 SLG) for optimism.
The Yankees still could look for another righty-hitting component, such as former Ray and Red Sox Rocco Baldelli, if such a candidate expressed a willingness to sign a minor-league contract. The same policy will likely go for backup catchers, with youngster Francisco Cervelli the leading candidate to play behind Jorge Posada.