What if Johnny Damon had accepted the Yankees' initial offer of a two-year, $14-million contract? Yes, the Yankees would have had the player whom general manager Brian Cashman has called "perfect" for the two-hole back for another year, but that doesn't mean there still wouldn't have been some uncertainty.
To be sure, the Yankees would have welcomed Damon back at that price. But he earned $13 million last season, and there was concern that bringing him back under a contract that included a dramatic pay cut might have sent the leftfielder into the 2010 season unhappy.
Damon has never been accused of being anything but a team player, but Cashman has said before - while speaking in general terms - that he's not wild about the concept of veteran players coming back to their most recent clubhouse after absorbing a pay cut.
Picture Bobby Abreu, who made $16 million in 2008, coming back to the Yankees for the one-year, $5-million deal he signed with the Angels, and his thoughts as he looked at his suddenly-much-higher-compensated teammates. Maybe he would have been fine with it. Maybe not.
It wasn't an issue with Andy Pettitte last season, but he is considered a different breed. And several times last season, he readily admitted that he wasn't thrilled about returning under the circumstances he did - a one-year, incentive-laden contract with a base of $5.5 million.
Clearly, clubhouse chemistry matters to Cashman, who has been portrayed - most publicly in the Joe Torre/Tom Verducci book "The Yankee Years" - of not recognizing that baseball "has a heartbeat," instead strictly adhering to a by-the-numbers approach.
Keeping chemistry in mind could be seen in the Yankees' two highest-profile acquisitions thus far - Curtis Granderson, whom Cashman called one of the sport's "true character guys," and Nick Johnson, a low-key personality with a pleasant demeanor who has fit in wherever he's been, including the Yankees from 2001-03.
It especially could be seen last year when Cashman signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett - top-flight and expensive free agents, yes, but also ones who positively influenced the clubhouse with their different personalities.
That clubhouse, in recent years, had developed a reputation as being less than warm. But that changed in 2009.
On Thursday, Granderson alluded to that perception and the change he noticed last season.
"In the past, you heard about the Yankees' payroll and you had a lot of guys playing who don't get along. That obviously isn't true," Granderson said. "You saw guys having fun . . . I saw that last year and that's where I want to be. I want to be on a team that's having fun all the time."
With Ken Davidoff