Running Down a Possible Free Agent Scenario

In the coming weeks, the Yankees will have a lot of decisions to make. As Rob discussed last night, the Yankees have seven free agents to be. For this article, I will be focusing on two of them: Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon.

First let me say this: we as fans, and the front office should heed this advice as well, should not be swayed in our willingness to see these players back in pinstripes after a strong World Series. For the better part of 2009, we all assumed that these two would be walking this winter. Both definitely come with risks. Matsui is a year younger than Damon, but Damon definitely plays younger. Matsui’s knees are shot and despite what he’s said, he is a full time DH at this point. Damon is also banged up and struggled in the latter part of the season. And though he can still play the field, his defense left a lot to be desired this season.

There is a distinct possibility that both of these players will be back on the team. There is also a possibility that they will both be gone. This, in my opinion, depends on the deal they are willing to take to stay in New York. If both were willing to take a one year contract with a club option for 2011, I’d sign up for that rather quickly. If either one wants a two year deal, I’d say let that guy walk. Both Matsui and Damon were very productive in 2009, but I’d rather let them go a year early than a year too late.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that one of them does leave and one of them does come back. For my scenario, it doesn’t matter too much as to which one it is. If one of Damon or Matsui leaves, I’d suggest the Yankees go ahead and give a one year deal to a guy they were looking to acquire last off-season: Mike Cameron. Cameron, who’s played for the Brewers for the last two seasons, is a Type B free-agent so he would require some draft pick compensation, but it would not be a first round pick (this is if the Brew Crew offers him arbitration).

Cameron may not be the best player out there, but he’s the best option for the Yankees. He will most likely not be highly sought after and would probably play for a one-year contract. This gives the Yankees more time to let prospect Austin Jackson develop and also gives them an insurance policy for Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner.

Mike owns a .347 career wOBA and averages 23 homers per 162 games, along with 83 RBI. His biggest negative is the hole in his swing as he strikes out 159 times per 162, but he can also be expected to walk 73 times in that span. In fact, Cameron’s walk rate has been above league average every year since 1999 and has been in double digits every year in that span, save for 2005 with the Mets.

If the Yankees do sign Cameron while retaining one of Matsui or Damon, where should each one play? How does Melky Cabrera factor in to all of this? Here’s how I’d shake it out:

–Mike Cameron plays center field. He’s played this position for the majority of his career and is a generally good fielder there. He has a career 5.7 UZR/150 there and his bat, while not stellar, is good for CF and will help boost his value.

–Melky Cabrera plays left field. This definitely hurts Melky’s value a bit, as his bat really doesn’t fit in left. However, in a limited sample in left (182 games, 1363 innings), Melky’s got a 4.0 UZR/150, which is better than his -5.9 mark in center field. It’s also very possible and probable that a move to the corners would increase Melky’s fielding. An outfield trio of Cabrera-Cameron-Swisher across is a good defensive outfield. Though it doesn’t quite have the pop of Ramirez-Kemp-Ethier, it would likely be able to hold its own at the plate and save more than a few runs in the outfield. While Melky’s bat may not be quite as good as Damon’s his defense would probably be much better and he could easily save more runs than Damon.

–Damon or Matsui DHs. The Yankees found out this year that the best way to keep an aging, relatively unhealthy player (Matsui) productive is to keep him off of the field. This same approach should be taken next season if only one player returns. If Damon returns, he could play left field to spell Melky during one of his dry spells. If Matsui returns, his DH bat somewhat makes up for Melky’s bat in left.

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