Via Jon Heyman -
“Johnny [Damon] was awesome here,” [Brian] Cashman said. “He was great in the clubhouse, great on the field. He is a great competitor, a great person and a great player,” We’re going to miss him. We wanted him to stay. We looked forward to having him back. But not at all costs.”
So if they agree so easily on the basic topic in question (Damon’s contribution), what happened to drive Damon away? The “not at all costs” thought certainly is a part of it. But is there more to it than that? How did it come to be that the Yankees and Damon — two sides that professed love for one another and continue to do so — never got close to an agreement?
In a last-ditch effort late last week after Damon himself called the team, Cashman, one of baseball’s best dealmakers, tried floating a contract of $6 million with $3 million deferred at no interest (with the promise it would be cleared with team boss Hal Steinbrenner, who was about to return from his honeymoon). But Damon wasn’t moved enough to respond.
Damon says he hopes to sign fairly soon. For that to happen, things will have to proceed more rapidly than the glacial pace of the talks with the Yankees. It’s hard to know exactly where things went wrong. But one could reasonably wonder whether he wanted to be a Yankee quite as badly as everyone thought. And definitely also wonder whether the Yankees wanted him back as badly as everyone thought.
Six weeks went by between the Yankees’ World Series championship and the time they threw out their first figure. And by then, they were already “down the road” with Johnson (though just how far down is still in dispute).
No dollars were discussed in a meaningful way until Dec. 17, when both sides agree that Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, suggested Damon would return for $26 million over two years. Cashman responded by suggesting he could find a No. 2 hitter at half the years for less than half the price.
The Yankees thought that was way too high a price in a tight market for outfielders and by the very next day they were close to a deal for Johnson, an ex-Yankee. Boras, hearing through the media about this surprising turn of events, called Cashman in an attempt to resurrect things. So he asked Cashman what the Yankees would pay, and that’s when Cashman threw out the figure of $14 million for two years.
This is where things get tricky. Damon said he has no hard feelings and doesn’t really want to re-live the talks, but also suggested now by phone that his text message of Dec. 18 to the New York Times that the “Yankees offered 2 for 14” didn’t really tell the whole story. It was Damon’s impression that the $14 million offer was actually contingent on Johnson’s deal falling through. “The situation is, it was pending if Nick Johnson wasn’t accepting or didn’t pass the physical,” Damon recalled.
Cashman remembered things slightly differently. Cashman said he only told Boras he better hurry, because the offer would be off the table if Johnson said yes first, and certainly if Johnson had already called in with a message to accept. Cashman said the Yankees were prepared to retract their offer from Johnson, though not if he’d already left word with someone that he already accepted.
This point is mostly moot, except to the most inside of baseball people. Because, as Damon said by phone Thursday, “I heard that (my offer) was pending, but I really didn’t care too much. It wasn’t going to be taken. … I definitely wasn’t in the mode to take it. Taking a 40 percent pay cut just didn’t seem to be the right thing.”
It is curious in any case why there was no offer for six weeks, and even then, only after the Yankees were on the verge of signing Johnson, a younger but injury prone (he averages missing 68 games a year) and considerably less accomplished player.
The Yankees’ say they never made an offer because they gathered that Damon’s price was way above what they wanted to pay. They figured: why bother? So no offer came. And when it did come, Damon said it is his understanding it came with strings attached.
“I’m not bitter,” Damon said. “It’s part of baseball. Teams are trying to stay within a budget.”
The Yankees have done plenty of budget busting in the past for their better players. So there’s plenty of wonder as to why they toed the line here.
Cashman is philosophical about the entire episode.
“Scott’s a great agent. Johnny’s a great player. And the Yankees are a great organization,” the Yankees’ GM said. “Sometimes, these things just don’t get done. The value we set for him didn’t meet the value he set for himself.”
The more you read on this thing, with all the he-said-she-said, reported conditional offers, claims and denials…well…it’s reminding me of Joe Torre’s exit from the team after the 2007 season.
Is this the “new” Yankees way of saying good-bye to personnel that they really don’t want anymore, but, where they’re somewhat thin-skinned about how the call to cut ties will be received by the public? It just might be…
Messy stuff, huh? Just wait until it’s time for one, or more, of the “Core Four” to go through this drill.