The New York Yankees came to the shores of free-agency, but had yet to make a splash. Yesterday, was D-Day in the Bronx and they jumped into the water full-force! In a New York minute, the splash caused a ripple that will affect not only the American League (AL) East, but the entire junior circuit. Johnny Damon is one of the top three leadoff men in the AL (along with Ichiro Suzuki and Grady Sizemore). By adding him to an already potent line-up, the Bronx Bombers are as dangerous as ever. Bombers’ general manager (GM) Brian Cashman was banking that Damon and his agent, Scott Boras would come down in their demands from seven to four-guaranteed years. At 32 years of age, four years is about what Damon has left as a dominant player. Once the Los Angeles Dodgers dropped out, there was no team willing to go past four years (The Baltimore Orioles discussed offering Damon five or six years, but never got into serious discussions with Boras). It came down to the Boys in Beantown versus the Bronx Bombers. After the Yankees $52 million offer was tendered, the Red Sox had a chance to match. But, the new young guns in Boston’s front office (Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer) blinked in the end and decided to pass, making Johnny Damon the new center fielder for the New York Yankees.
The Yankees were busy on another front while they were winding up the Damon negotiations. Early yesterday, they signed former Met and injured closer, Octavio Dotel to reinforce their bullpen. Dotel is the latest former fire-baller coming off of Tommy John surgery. The Yankees guaranteed Dotel $2 million for the season and gave him the chance to earn another $3 million to $4 million in incentives. Like Damon, Dotel is 32 years old. He has been a closer or dominant set-up man for most of his seven-year career. The progress of his rehabilitation has the Yankees targeting June or July for his return, just in time for the second half of the season. Last year, Dotel had 7 saves and a 3.52 earned run average in 15 games before opting for surgery. Before getting hurt, Dotel was one of the premier strike-out relievers in the game. In 2001 he struck-out 145 men in only 105 innings and has never had fewer strikeouts than innings pitched in any of his seven seasons in the bigs.
Damon will be joining his fourth team in his 11-year career. Not only has Johnny been one of the most effective lead-off men in the game for the past eight years, but he has also been incredibly durable- not counting his rookie year, Damon has avoided major injuries and has never played in fewer than 145 games in a season. With Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi hitting behind him, Damon should have no problem extending his streak (8 consecutive years) of scoring at least 100 runs in a season. Heck, with Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Robinson Cano hitting at the bottom of the order Damon could drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career. The Yankees hitters’ resumes are so impressive that Damon will sport the second lowest career average in the starting line-up, even though he is a lifetime .290 hitter and has hit over .300 in four different seasons.
While the Yankees starting nine is top-shelf, their bench is mostly driftwood. The present group should see very little playing time. The sprited and hustling Bubba Crosby is presently their fourth outfielder. He is 29, and a lifetime .221 hitter in 163 career at bats (ABs). Long-time minor leaguer Felix Escalona, 26, is their utility infielder. He is a career .209 hitter in 206 ABs. Andy Phillips is another guy who has seemingly laid down roots in Columbus over the last couple of years. Phillips, 29, is the backup first baseman and has a .167 average in 48 major league ABs. Kelly Stinnett is Randy Johnson’s new personal catcher and has the most experience of all the spare parts. Stinnett is 35 years old and a .239 career hitter in 1860 ABs. With the Yanks having cut ties with Ruben Sierra, expect the Bombers to add an experienced and versatile veteran who can play some first-base and outfield. Eduardo Perez and Daryl Ward are two options that Cashman might explore. Another player Cashman has been interested in before, former Oakland A’s outfielder, Eric Byrnes is also available now that the Orioles have non-tendered him.