johnny damon

should the Yankees sign Johnny Damon?

AL BEast Notebook – Feb 26

Johnny Damon was on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York on Monday, and immediately the conversation began with the Curtis Granderson injury and the new vacancy in the outfield.

First question from Michael Kay: “Do you have any interest in going to the Yankees?”

“You guys know that I would have tons of interest to go to New York… Hopefully it would be a perfect fit. It always has been. Have me for six weeks and then send me off on my merry way. That’s fine.”

Don La Greca: “You think you could come here and be successful? You feel comfortable that you could step right back in with Granderson out?”

“Oh absolutely. Losing Curtis Granderson is definitely a tough thing to swallow, but with the way I hit at Yankee Stadium and with the right field porch, it worked when I played with them… If they want to see what I can do, then I’ll definitely be interested… I hope they have interest.”

Kay: You would be okay with coming in until Curtis could come back?

“It was almost like that last year. I signed in Cleveland with the intentions of being there for one month until Grady Sizemore came back, and he never came back… I’m not going to hold any team hostage, ya know, if they want me they want me, if they don’t then I’ll walk, and maybe try to pick up somewhere else or get ready for the summer.

“Last time I played with them we won a World Series… I know the players there really liked me and respected me, and a few of the players ended up going there because I was there.”

Kay: Would you be willing to pick up the phone and call Cashman and go, ‘Listen, I could give you six weeks if you need it’?

“Well, I probably should. But I know how the New York media works, and I’m talking to you so I’m sure he’ll hear about it tomorrow.”

What about money?

“Oh no, money is not an issue. I mean, I’ve made plenty, and I understand that I don’t have a job right now so I’ll go in, I just want to play. You can give me the minimum, that’s all that I care about. That chance to be in the Big Leagues and shoot, the New York Yankees, I loved my time there, and I know a bunch of the players loved my time there, and it’s just a matter of if they want me.

“I still have that want to play… I won’t say I’ll be waiting but I will be listening, still get on with my life and if works out, it works out.”

I don’t know who initiated the interview, but it was a clearly orchestrated plea by Damon   to get the attention of GM Brian Cashman. There were several key points that he made sure came across without subtlety. 1) He wants to play for the Yankees and wants them to know that. 2) He played well for the Yankees and is a good fit offensively. 3) He’s a good clubhouse guy and well-liked by his teammates. 4) He’s even willing to be a just a fill-in until Granderson returns. 5) He doesn’t require a significant financial obligation. 6) He helped the Yankees win a World Series.

The first thing that pops into every listener’s mind at the idea is “That’s crazy; Damon is old and washed up. There’s gotta be someone else on the roster.”

The problem is, there isn’t.

Damon played four seasons in New York. He hit 24 homers the first and fourth years, his on-base-percentage that World Series season was .365. He stole a combined 93 bases. He is now 39 and has probably lost some of the wheels, but even in his last full season starting in 2011 he still stole 19 bases.

So even an old Johnny Damon can probably give the Yankees (at a full-season scale) close to 20 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and get on base about 33% of the time. Not bad for a minimum pay veteran fill-in.

Would you rather go with Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz, two 34 year-old career fourth outfielders that both give you practically no power, speed, rarely walk, and hit .245? Or a Melky Mesa or Zoilo Almante, minor league prospects that are not yet ready to play at the big level?

Yes, Damon is a liability defensively. But on this Yankees’ team there are already offensive holes at catcher and third base (apologies to Youk) and showed an inability to play small-ball last year. They can’t afford to stick another offensive liability into the lineup. The offense should be the priority. And Damon is a career .352 OBP guy with over 2,700 hits who demonstrated he can hit at Yankees Stadium.

Girardi can sit him on the road or DH him from time to time if he is concerned. This is really a low-cost, low-risk idea. Johnny isn’t asking for much, just an opportunity to play on a team. If it doesn’t work, tell him thanks and good-bye and trot out Diaz, Juan Rivera or a minor leaguer.

If they just need to patch a hole in the boat for a month and a half, why not go for a Yankee hero? There’s not a lot to cheer for with A-Rod and Grandy out, Ibanez and Swisher gone, and Hal Steinbrenner sticking to a tighter budget. Just like picking up Ichiro last summer, Damon would add some excitement to Yankee fans and add life to the team. And like Ichiro, maybe he still has some pop in his bat and life in his legs.

The other thing that Johnny mentioned in the interview is that he expects it to take him three to four weeks to be ready in prime form. In other words, “Cashman, hurry and sign me now and I’ll be there Opening Day!”

I say yes. What harm would it do? The Yankees have a need and he can fill it. Now that I think about it, other than Giancarlo Stanton (who isn’t going anywhere), there’s nobody I’d rather see in left field at Yankees Stadium this April than Johnny Damon.