There does not, currently, appear to be room in the Yankee budget for Johnny Damon this offseason (and I think you could make the argument that the Yankees don’t really need him). Whether or not that is really true, I’ll get to later; for right now, let’s just assume it is and the he won’t come back to the Yankees.
Where else could he possibly end up?
I’ve looked at the depth chart for pretty much every team and I can’t find a good fit. Let’s start with the two teams Damon has been tied to in rumors (though those rumors seem to have died):
Atlanta Braves. Without doing any real research, this seemed like a logical location for Damon. On further review though, it doesn’t make a ton of sense. The Braves have Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz, and Melky Cabrera already and prospects Jordan Shafer and Jason Heyward potentially ready to contribute. Eric Hinske is there to provide depth. Sure, they could make Melky the 4th outfielder, but McLouth would be better off at a corner spot; plus would the Braves really pay Melky $3.1 million to be an extra outfielder? If so, that’s a poor use of funds.
Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez for their corner outfield spots and first base. Adding Damon would allow for all 4 to rotate around with the DH slot. This, I would think, makes some sense. What doesn’t make sense here though? Damon’s home/road splits and declining defensive numbers likely won’t play well in spacious Comerica Park. It wouldn’t surprise me if Damon and Boras know this too.
Damon makes the most sense for AL teams, but really, who else out there has a spot for him? Even the Royals seem to be set in the outfield and anyways, Damon doesn’t fit their model of signing below-average players. Could a small market team like Oakland or Minnesota get involved? Both teams have cheaper options already and value defense a great deal, so it seems unlikely.
Looking at the NL, it is just as difficult to find a match, especially since there are less positions to fill. The Reds could make some sense, but are they willing to spend more money after the big Aroldis Chapman signing?
I honestly do not think Damon is currently on the Yankees radar, but he supposedly wasn’t on their radar back before the 06 season when they signed him. I think only the Yankees, Tigers, and Reds have a clear starting role for Damon and are contenders (so a short term signing of Damon would be justifiable). Would any of them really be willing to spend big-money though? Doubtful.
If Damon ends up willing to sign a Bobby Abreu of 2009-esque deal for one year around $5 million with some small incentives, do the Yankees increase their budget? And conversely, if you’re Johnny Damon and you’re not going to get a large multi-year contract from anyone, don’t you want to go to the Yankees, where you’re comfortable and they have a stadium perfectly suited to your skills? In that sense, doesn’t playing for the Yankees stand to earn Damon more in the long run than playing in Detroit, even if the Yanks paid him a little less?
For just that reason I think the Yankees really are Damon’s top choice and it wouldn’t shock me if he ended up coming back, but on the Yankees’ terms. And let’s face it: as we’ve learned from Xavier Nady, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, etc in years past, depth is a good thing.
And speaking of Nady: if Damon’s market is shrinking so much, how much of a market could Nady possibly have? Couldn’t he end up signing absurdly cheap? Clearly, the Yankees will continue to play the waiting game, as the longer this plays out, the more they strengthen their position.