Johnny Damon Needs the Yankees More Than the Yankees Need Damon

November 29, 2009

While every one is pondering why Roy Halladay is needed on the Yankees (he isn’t), I want to focus on the first free agent deal that Brian Cashman will attempt to get done.

After Johnny Damon finally helped the New York Yankees back to the World Series, and winning their first title since 2001, he is a free agent again. And every time Damon has been a free agent, he has changed teams. He was the good corporate guy who said all the right things before, during and after the big parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

Damon would “love to be a Yankee again,” and he wants “to end my career in New York.”

But after making the defining play of this years World Series with his double steal, smart dash to third base, it appears Damon does want more of the Yankees…more of their money and more years in his contract.  

Before his breakout in the 2009 post season, it was widely thought that the Yankees and Damon would agree to a one year deal with incentives, similar to what Andy Pettitte signed with New York last off season. That type of situation would work well for both sides; the Yankees would retain the popular Damon with reasonable dollar figures and Damon would continue to play his usual 150+ games per season.

Damon would play mostly left field and occasionally DH to give his 36-year-old legs a rest.

Now Damon (his wife, Michelle and agent Scott Boras) says that many teams are interested in his services, and he has told friends that he will not give the Yankees a discount to stay with the World Champs.

There is no other way to say this – Johnny Damon is a moron. Simply put, if he leaves the Yankees then he is a very stupid individual.

While a member of the Boston Red Sox, Damon was considered one of the “idiots” of their 2004 World Series title team.

That name aptly fits this older version of Damon, too.

After finally experiencing a World Championship in the best city to win a sports title of any kind, Damon wants more money. His agent has bandied about needing a four year deal for the 36-year-old outfielder. But Boras’ free agent rants never get his client wha he says they deserve.

In separate interviews Boras has said that Damon should get the same type of deal that Yankee catcher Jorge Posada (also 36 at the time) received prior to the 2008 season. Then Boras said that Damon “made Derek Jeter” by hitting behind him this season and his client compares favorably (saber and fantasy stat wise) to the Yankee Captain over the last three seasons. He stated that “whatever the Yankees plan on doing with Jeter long-term, Damon deserves similar consideration.”

Problem for Boras and Damon is that the decision on Johnny will come well before any work on Jeter’s new deal begins.

Also, Boras does not realize (or maybe he does and is just blowing his usual smoke), that the Yankees really needed Posada that off season, as they had nothing in their system at the catching position remotely close to the major leagues and the other choices available in free agency or via trades were terrible.  At that time Francisco Cervelli had finished his first full season in the minors at High-A Tampa.

In fact, the Yankees were willing to give Posada a three-year deal, but had to go the extra year because Jorge was being courted by Omar Minaya and the New York Mets, and at that time, the best available catcher was their own backup Jose Molina or free agent Paul LoDuca. Also, Alex Rodriguez had already opted out of his Yankee deal at that time, and the Yankees were in desperate need of  right handed power, something the switch-hitting Posada provided.

Also, Posada plays a more demanding position (although not as well as his younger years) and was a mainstay Yankee from their dynasty years, part of the vaunted Core Four.

Not quite the same situation as with Damon is it Mr. Boras? But when have you ever been reasonable in your free agent demands?

And in regards to comparing Damon to Mr. Jeter, a five-time World Series winner, de facto leader of the Yankees over the last 10 years, this generation’s version of Joe DiMaggio and a sure fire first-ballot Hall of Famer… well I guess I just said all their needs to be said.

As the title of the piece says, Damon needs the Yankees more than the Yankees need him. Their are quite a few left fielders available via free agency (Jason Bay and Matt Holliday) and within the Yankees own system – they can promote Austin Jackson, and have a trio of Jackson, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner man center and left field. Lefty power can be supplied by Juan Miranda or re-signing Eric Hinske.

Or the rumored trade involving the Yankees and Detroit Tigers for center fielder Curtis Granderson would move Cabrera or Gardner to left field and Granderson in center will supply the lefty power Damon provided last season. While I personally do not like Granderson for the Yankees, it is another option for Brian Cashman.

According to reports Damon has options, too. Remember that even Damon said several teams have shown interest. Those teams include the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox (very early reports). But lefty hitters are a dime a dozen. What most teams need is righty power such as Bay and Holliday. The Red Sox, Rangers, Rays and a dozen other teams fit this category.

And from what I remember, Damon hits left handed. So I do believe some teams are interested in a guy who put up a line of .284/.365/.489 this season with an OPS+ of 126. It is just that those teams are not good and would be in Damon’s worst interest to sign with them.

Damon needs to think about himself first, but not in the monetary sense, but in terms of legacy. It is what every person wonders – how will I be remembered in this game, business, job, family etc? And in major league baseball, legacy is determined by World Series Championships and the Hall of Fame.

According to baseball-reference.com, Damon has made a tick over $97 million in his baseball career. Assuming he hasn’t blown it all (and TMZ is more busy following Tiger Woods’ life), he is pretty well set, as are his children, his future grandchildren AND THEIR future grandchildren!

Unless you are Montgomery Brewster, a person can’t even begin to spend all that cash.

In other words Damon doesn’t need any more money.

What Damon does need is more career hits, runs, doubles,  HR’s and RBI’s. Evidenced by his never being in the Top 10 of any MVP vote, Damon has not been dominating in any aspect of his game during any part of his career.

Damon needs to accumulate stats to even get a whiff of the Hall of Fame. He has two World Series rings, but Damon needs to get 3,000 hits, needs to get to around 1,800 runs scored, needs 600 doubles, needs 300 homers and needs about 1,300 RBI’s.

Is Damon going to get to those numbers hitting second in the White Sox lineup? Will he get there hitting in spacious AT&T Park in San Francisco, hellish for a lefty hitter? No and no. The Red Sox might need a left fielder this year, but Damon can never go back there.

Damon bests interests  for HOF consideration (and a great legacy) in playing for the Yankees where he gets to hit in cozy Yankee Stadium, hitting behind a Hall of Famer in Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira (potential HOFer) and Alex Rodriguez (lock HOFer). Hitting in that lineup, while in that park will get Damon more of the accumulated stats he needs to get serious Hall of Fame votes somewhere around 2020.

It would be great for Damon if they can work out that two year deal, and a TEAM OPTION for a third, which would keep Damon hungry for more.

Here is what Damon said during the parade, “I want to continue to be on a team that can win and to play in front of great fans – and we know that the Yankees fill both of those,” Damon said. “I think everyone knows my desire to come back. Still, every time I’ve been a free agent, I’ve ended up switching teams. It’s the nature of the beast. If people are interested, I’m going to listen.”

Go ahead and listen to them Johnny, because when you take that bigger contract in San Francisco for more money and years, but fall short in career numbers for the Hall of  Fame, you only have yourself to blame. Imagine a 70-year-old Damon sitting on the front porch answering another reporter’s question about his thoughts on falling short of the Hall of Fame?

Don’t be an “idiot” this time around Johnny, but be a man and tell your agent, Mr. Boras, to get a deal done with the Yankees.

It will be in your legacy’s best interest.

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Yankees’ Damaso Marte Becoming the New Graeme Lloyd

November 2, 2009

In the 8th inning of Saturday night’s New York Yankee victory, manager Joe Girardi summoned left handed reliever Damaso Marte to begin the frame. At the time, the Yankees led 8-4, so the game was still within reach of Philadelphia, especially with the middle, power-part of the Phillies hitters due up.

It was a good move by Girardi (one of many he has made this post season), getting the lefty Marte to face Phillies slugger Ryan Howard leading off the inning.

Marte dispatched Howard on five pitches (all strikes), continuing the terrible World Series by the big first baseman. What was uplifting though is that Girardi left Marte in to face the right handed Jayson Werth, who already hit two monstrous home runs in the game.

Marte also struck out Werth (who looked at three called strikes) and then quickly got another lefty, Raul Ibanez, to hit a weak liner to Alex Rodriguez at third base. Marte threw 15 pitches, 13 of which were for strikes.

With Phil Hughes, David Robertson and lefty Phil Coke all available, Girardi could easily have brought in Marte to face Howard, brought in Robertson to face Werth, and then wear out the path to the mound one batter later to bring in Coke to face Ibanez.

And that is what Girardi WOULD have done if he didn’t have a change of attitude during the ALCS.

In Game Three of the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels, Girardi removed an effective Robertosn in the 11th inning to bring in Alfredo Aceves. Aceves promptly gave up two straight hits and the Yankees lost. Girardi used EIGHT pitchers in that game and was roundly criticized for making too many matchup moves.

Since then, Girardi has been more economical with his pitchers (except for Mariano Rivera), and was the reason for leaving Marte in for the entire 8th inning last night.

As many readers of my writings can attest, I have never been a big fan of Damaso Marte, and was highly critical of the last season’s trade , which brought Marte (and OF Xavier Nady) to the Yankees.

But last night, Marte combined an unusually high mid-90’s fastball (topping out at 95), with his precision placed slider. The key with Marte is that he is locating his slider (and his fastball) very, very well.

In this postseason, Marte has now retired the last nine batters he has faced. He is being used in bigger situations as Girardi begins to gain more trust in the veteran left hander.

He is becoming the next Graeme Lloyd, a former Yankee outcast who made the postseason roster due to being the only other lefty available, but then coming through all postseason long.

Lloyd was a tall Australian who was acquired by the Yankees in Aug. 23, 1996 for durable reliever Bob Wickman and OF Gerald Williams. The Yankees needed another lefty for their bullpen to complement…well, to complement no one because the Yankees had no effective lefty bullpen arm the entire 1996 season.  

Lloyd was not particularly impressive after the trade, giving the Yankees 5.2 innings while allowing 12 hits, five walks and 11 earned runs. His ERA was 17.47 and his Yankee WHIP was 3.000.

Still, Yankee manager Joe Torre kept Lloyd as his lefty specialist for the 1996 post season. He responded by throwing 6.1 innings, allowing a single hit, no walks while striking out five hitters. Lloyd continuously faced tough lefty hitters in big situations and proceeded to come through each time.

The big moment of his post season that year was in Game Four of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves

Tied at six entering the bottom of the 9th inning (in the same game Jim Leyritz hit the big three-run homer off of Mark Wohlers), with one out, Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera allowed a single to Mark Lemke and walked Chipper Jones.

Torre replaced Rivera with Lloyd* to face Braves lefty slugger Fred McGriff, who had homered earlier in the game. With the game and series on the line (if the Braves won they would have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead), Lloyd induced McGriff into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play.

The Yankees would then score two runs in the 10th inning and go on to win Game Four (Lloyd was credited with that win) and eventually win the World Series.

Marte has become the 2009 version of Graeme Lloyd. Marte was injured for most of the season, and when he was available, was largely ineffective and mostly ignored late in the season. His season ERA was a Lloyd-like 9.45 and Marte only appeared in mop up duty in September.

Many people, including me, thought Marte was not going to be on the post season roster, but like Torre did 13 seasons earlier, Girardi showed faith in the veteran Marte and kept him around for his left-leaning ways.

Marte has also been Lloyd-like in this post season, retiring all nine of the batters he has faced in the ALCS and World Series, and has become a thorn in the side of Philadelphia’s left handed hitters Chase Utley, Howard and Ibanez. With the struggles of Phil Hughes, it has been interesting to see both Marte and Joba Chamberlain being used more in later inning situations.

While I have not been a fan of Marte’s since his arrival in New York, I have written that if he does come through in the 2009 post season, that trade will have a modicum of redemption .

His continued post season success is critical for the Yankees in their drive towards another World Series title.

Who would have thought Graeme Lloyd could be reincarnated?

*Interestingly, Lloyd also appeared in Game Three, also coming in for Rivera, who eventually became the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history. Imagine replacing the great Rivera in back-to-back World Series games.


Alex Rodriguez Must Adjust His Hitting Approach

November 1, 2009

An in-game analysis of Alex Rodriguez hitting approach:

In the second inning of tonight’s game, Alex was hit in the upper back by a pitch from Joe Blanton. It was the third time in the last five at-bats Rodriguez was hit by a pitch.

After a conference between the umpires, they decided stupidly to warn both benches about retaliation. Alex exacerbated the situation by telling home plate umpire Mike Winters it was obvious the Phillies were throwing at him.

I disagree with Alex. The Phillies are not throwing at Alex, but are following the game plan all teams have this postseason.

Throw Alex fastball inside on the hands to get two strikes on him, then go away with junk to get him out. Pedro Martinez worked this to perfection in Game Two. When the Phillies pitchers miss on that inside pitch, they are missing inside off the plate, and a couple of those errant pitches have hit him. With any power hitter, if you miss inside, you better miss off the plate.

This approach by the Phillies has retired Alex most of the series, as he has only one hit (albeit a big one last night) with six strikeouts.

But Alex has to change his approach this game, and this game only. Due to the warning to both benches, The Phillies will not be able to pitch him inside with hard stuff as consistently. Rodriguez’ next two at-bats after being hit resulted in a few token inside pitches, with most of the stuff form Blanton being off-speed stuff right over the plate.

For example, the first pitch in his third at-bat (with two men on and two outs), Blanton threw Alex a “hit me” curveball right over the middle. Alex took it for a called strike and went immediately behind in the count.

Because he is so conscious of being pitched inside, Alex is pulling out early and basically waving at the slow stuff middle out.

HE NEEDS TO REALIZE THAT THE INSIDE STUFF IS NOT HAPPENING TONIGHT.

He can avoid looking inside this game because of the pitchers’ fears of being ejected of coming too close.

By looking to be aggressive early in the count on pitches over the plate, Alex can become a factor late in the game.

But that all changes again tomorrow when a new set of rules will apply, and Cliff Lee will again be pounding the inside corner with fastballs—before looking to get him out away with soft stuff.

One reason why the little guys like Mark Lemke for the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s, Brian Doyle for the Yankees in 1978, and Al Weis for the New York Mets in 1969 were successful in the World Series is the opposition goes to great lengths to attack the big hitters. Sometimes, the little guys slip through the cracks because the concentration level is not that high for each of their at-bats.

The concentration level for all the Phillies pitchers is very high when Alex is up at bat, and it shows this series.

Alex needs to adjust for every at-bat, but especially this Game Four.