Johnny Damon said he is close to a deal with...

Johnny Damon said he is close to a deal with Cleveland. Credit: John Dunn

Yankees’ leftfielder: Gardner? Granderson? Damon?

The Yankees would love to have Johnny Damon back — on a one-year, $2-million deal. If Damon were to accept that, he’d be the Yankees’ leftfielder, with Curtis Granderson in centerfield and Brett Gardner serving as a defensive replacement and pinch runner.

But Damon appears unlikely to take such a pay cut with his old team; if not, the Yankees would sign a righthanded-hitting outfielder such as Reed Johnson or Xavier Nady. In which case, it’s fair to wonder how the Yankees will line up their starting outfield: Will it be newcomer Granderson in centerfield and Gardner shifting to left, or the other way around?

Here’s what a scout who spent plenty of time around the Tigers the past few years said about Granderson’s play in centerfield: “When he goes to his left, he struggles.”

How often does a leftfielder have to go to his left? Half as often as a centerfielder? Depends on positioning, I suppose.

“We acquired Curtis to be our centerfielder,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said this past week. “But it’s nice that we have two potential everyday centerfielders. If our best team is fielded by making adjustments, we’ll do that.”

Cashman is on record as acknowledging that his scouts saw Granderson take some questionable routes in center last September during the Tigers’ stretch run.

The Angels pursued Granderson with the idea that he’d play leftfield for them. And such a switch would give the Yankees a more traditional profile offensively. Right now, Gardner, who has little pop, projects as a below-average leftfielder on the offensive side. Granderson slugs enough to carry the corner position.

 What a relief

When the current collective-bargaining agreement ends after the 2011 season, expect the draft-pick compensation system for free agents to be dramatically changed. The Elias system for ranking Type A and Type B players doesn’t work. It fails most of all for relief pitchers, and that’s why Major League Baseball and the Players Association are working to adjust the way relievers are ranked in time for next year’s free-agent market — a year ahead of blowing up the whole setup.

Type A setup men who are offered arbitration, such as Colorado’s Rafael Betancourt and Atlanta’s (now Tampa Bay’s) Rafael Soriano this year and Darren Oliver (then with the Angels) and David Weathers (Cincinnati) last year, have little choice but to accept. Teams are largely unwilling to give up a draft choice to sign a setup man.

So the new system will emphasize saves more and wins less, in the hopes of keeping setup men away from that Type A anchor.

Happy Hank

Our objection to Hank Steinbrenner during the 2008 season was that he talked a big game but had neither the juice nor the work ethic to back it up.

But now that Prince Hank largely has stopped talking, who are we to complain about him? And he has been putting his position to good use.

When Yankees adviser Ray Negron brought a group of overachieving students from Long Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan down to Tampa, Steinbrenner and his brother-in-law, Felix Lopez, played host to them at Steinbrenner Field, allowing the youngsters to pose with the World Series championship trophy.

“I am as proud of these kids, and what they have accomplished with their education, as I am with a 27-time championship ballclub,” Steinbrenner told Negron.

Showing Carl the money

Long Island native Tom O’Connell continues to rise in the ultra-competitive field of player representation. O’Connell signed Carl Pavano to a one-year, $7-million deal with Minnesota. By accepting arbitration from the Twins last month, Pavano ensured a better payday than a free agent such as Doug Davis.

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