While the Yankees’ primary focus remains pitching, they have been communicating with free agent Johnny Damon about a possible return to the Yankees for 2011, Newsday has learned.
Four sources said that Damon and the Yankees were talking about a role in which Damon, 37, would get occasional at-bats as a designated hitter and fill in at leftfield, allowing starting leftfielder Brett Gardner to either rest or shift to fill in for centerfielder Curtis Granderson or rightfielder Nick Swisher.
Damon would prefer a job with more guaranteed playing time, two of the sources said, so a deal is not close and far from guaranteed. But there have been multiple conversations between the two sides.
The Yankees have been looking for a right handed hitting outfielder this offseason, but it looks like they may turn to Damon, a lefty, instead. Damon had a .756 OPS last season with a .740 OPS against lefties so he isn’t a terrible option.
Damon probably wouldn’t be getting a ton of playing time though. Jorge Posada isn’t likely to do much catching at all so he should get a good amount of starts as the DH and their outfielders are all in their prime. So really Damon would only be playing the occasional day off for one of their outfielders or against a tough lefty. That realistically doesn’t sound like more than 50-60 starts.
There is the possibility that this could mean that the Yankees could be looking to deal one of their outfielders for a pitcher and would replace him with Damon. That seems unlikely, but it certainly remains a possibility.
If the Yankees are looking to deal one of their outfielders and replacing him with Damon it doesn’t sound like the best idea though. Damon, 37, had a pretty big decline last year. He went from a .854 OPS with the Yankees in 2009 to a .756 OPS with the Tigers last year. That’s about a 100 point drop. Now he’s a year older and it is possible that his numbers could drop even further.
If his OPS drops to around .700 or lower he could be a big strain on the team considering how bad his defense has gotten. He was barely even an outfielder for the Tigers last year playing 97 games as their DH and only 36 games in the outfield.
It it’s strictly a part-time role where he only plays 50-75 games including a decent amount as the DH it might not be such a terrible deal. Hopefully the Yankees will be smart and only offer him about $2 million or less though. Because if he’s making $4 million or so they’ll be reluctant to cut him if he’s OPS’ing around .650 by June.
What do you think? Should the Yankees re-sign Damon? Or were they smart letting him go a year ago?