Can the New York Yankees repeat as world champions with a left-field platoon of Brett Gardner and free agent Reed Johnson?
I decided to look at the numbers and see if it would be a workable platoon by looking at the splits of Gardner and Johnson during the 2009 season. What I found was interesting.
Gardner, 26, missed about five weeks with a thumb injury and lost his center-field job to Melky Cabrera in late April. As a result he played in only 108 games and started just 63. Overall, he hit .270 with three home runs, 23 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.
Johnson, 33, was primarily a reserve outfielder with the Cubs last season. He played in 65 games and started just 36. Overall, Johnson hit .255 with four home runs, 22 RBIs and two stolen bases.
But if Gardner were to play in a platoon with Johnson, he primarily would just face right-handed pitchers. In 193 at-bats against right-handers, Gardner hit .264 with three home and 16 RBIs. He had a .335 on-base percentage, which is somewhat low.
Against left-handers, Gardner had only 55 at-bats but surprisingly he hit .291 with no homers and seven RBIs. His OBP was a very good .381. So as odd as it may seem, Gardner actually hit left-handers pretty well. It was right-handers that gave him some trouble.
Johnson gave left-handers fits. He hit .324 with a home run and 11 RBIs in 68 at-bats. Right-handers love to face him because he hit a miserable .206 against them with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 97 at-bats.
By just looking at these numbers I would be reluctant to make this a strict platoon. I would look to start Gardner in every game with the exception of games against what could be tougher left-handers such as Cliff Lee.
I would keep Johnson as a reserve outfielder and only start him against occasional left-handers because he would have more value as a late-inning pinch-hitter against left-handers and a potential defensive outfield replacement for Nick Swisher.
The Yankees’ interest in Johnson may have more to do with Curtis Granderson and his inability to hit left-hand pitching. In 180 at-bats against left-handers last season, Granderson hit a miserable .183 with two home runs and nine RBIs. His OBP was a pathetic .245.
So it would seem rather than a platoon of Gardner and Johnson in left, Gardner looks to be given the everyday job in center field and Granderson and Johnson would platoon in left. This would make sense because Granderson’s fielding came into question last year with some of the poor routes he took to balls in center field.
The Yankee front office believes Gardner is the better defensive center fielder and that Granderson is better suited for left field. Johnson would give the Yankees an excellent defensive outfielder in left who can hit left-handers.
But, of course, the Yankees best option may be re-sign Johnny Damon instead of Johnson. In 171 at-bats against left-handers in 2009 Damon hit a respectable .269 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. In 379 at-bats against right-handers he batted .288 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs.
By starting Damon in left the Yankees could leave Granderson in center and Gardner could be a defensive replacement, late-inning pinch-hitter or pinch-runner and occasional starter. This was his same role in 2009.
The Yankees could also use Rule 5 draft pick Jamie Hofffman as a occasional starter against left-handers if he shows well this spring. Hoffman, 25, has some power and could be used in left field or right field.
That could mean an outfield of Nick Swisher in right, Curtis Granderson in center and Johnny Damon in left against right handers and left-handers with Gardner and Hoffman on the bench.
THE DAMON MARKET
Because Jason Bay has signed with the Mets, I thought it would be interesting to see what possibilities exist for Damon aside from the Yankees. I looked at all the other teams in baseball and tried to assess the likelihood of signing Damon.
One thing that works to Damon’s detriment is his age (36). Another is the number of years and amount of money he is seeking. He has demanded four years at $13 million per season. Another huge negative is his agent is the ruthless Scott Boras, who many teams just avoid dealing with by not choosing his clients in drafts.
One other Damon problem is the fact Damon hit 17 home runs and drove in 42 runs at home and hit only seven home runs and drove in 40 runs on the road. His power is simply a function of Yankee Stadium and teams view him as more of a legitimate 15 home run hitter on another team.
Let’s see what Damon’s market may be:
Boston Red Sox - They have a vacancy in left with Jason Bay gone but they signed free agent Mike Cameron and the plan is now to play Cameron in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center and J.D. Drew will man right. The Red Sox also have Jeremy Hermida. It does not look that Johnny will have a triumphant return to Fenway.
Tampa Bay Rays - Carl Crawford is entrenched here for one last season. He is expected to leave via free agency next winter but the Rays seem determined to make a run at keeping him rather than trading him in 2009. No market for Damon here.
Baltimore Orioles - The Orioles have a burgeoning star outfield of Nick Markakis in right, Adam Jones and center and young Nolan Reimold in left. They would seem to zero interest in adding Damon to the mix.
Chicago White Sox - The White Sox are moving Carlos Quentin lo right and they seem committed to rehabilitating Alex Rios in center. They have signed Juan Pierre to play left and bat leadoff and I doubt they would want Damon at all.
Minnesota Twins - The Twins may have made a mistake with acquiring Delmon Young but they are stuck with him in left. Denard Span is in center and Michael Cuddyer is in right and Jason Kubel is the DH. No path for Johnny here.
Detroit Tigers - Carlos Guillen is the front-runner in left with former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson in center and the Tigers are saddled with Magglio Ordonez and his expensive contract in right. In addition, the Tigers have young outfielders Ryan Raburn and Clete Thomas. Considering the Tigers were shedding payroll all winter it would seem signing Damon is not in the cards,
Cleveland Indians - The Indians have Grady Sizemore in center and Shin-Soo Choo in right. They are looking to add youngster Michael Brantley in left. The Indians also have Trevor Crowe and they are still hoping Travis Hafner recovers to be
the DH. There would seem to be some possibility for Johnny here. But the Indians may be leery because of Damon’s asking price.
Kansas City Royals - David DeJesus is planted in left and Jose Guillen is the right fielder. Career minor-leaguer Mitch Maier is in center. With Mark Teahen a free agent it would seem Johnny could end up back home in Kansas City. However, he would have to take a major haircut on that $13 million salary demand. The Royals won’t pay it.
Los Angeles Angels - The Angels are loaded with outfielders. They have Bobby Abreu in right and Gold Glover Torii Hunter in center. They also have former Yankee Juan Rivera in left and Gary Matthews and Reggie Willits on the bench. Considering former Yankee Hideki Matsui is signed to DH it would seem Damon’s demand in Anaheim is nil unless he can play third base to replace Chone Figgins. That is not happening, of course.
Oakland Athletics - The A’s signed Coco Crisp to play center and they have Ryan Sweeney to play right. That leaves Scott Hairston to play left with Rajai Davis as a backup. They could potentially bring back Damon as a DH and part-time outfielder. But they won’t pay the $13 million asking price. I doubt they would even pay $10 million.
Seattle Mariners - Ichiro owns right field and Franklin Guttierrez won the center field job with his solid play in 2009. The Mariners added Milton Bradley to play left and Ken Griffey Jr. is back for likely his final season as the team’s DH. No vacancy for Johnny here.
Texas Rangers - The Rangers have Nelson Cruz to play right and Josh Hamilton likely will play center again. Even with the loss of free-agent Marlon Byrd to the Cubs, it would seem that David Murphy and rookie Julio Borbon will compete in left field. The Rangers’ deal to bring in third baseman Mike Lowell to DH fell through. But the Rangers are in the process of being sold so they are not likely to be actively looking to sign free agents like Damon.
Atlanta Braves - The Braves acquired Melky Cabrera from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade and he could settle in as the right fielder with Nate McLouth in center and a platoon including Matt Diaz in left. It is doubtful that the Braves, who are so determined to shed salary this winter would add Damon to the mix.
Florida Marlins - The Marlins seem happy with their young outfield of Cody Ross (29), Cameron Maybin (22) and Chris Coghlan (24). They also do not seem too keen on adding to their payroll with free agents. Johnny would have to look elsewhere.
New York Mets - The signing of Jason Bay completes their outfield. Bay will play left, Carlos Beltran is in center and Jeff Francoeur is in right. Johnny need not apply here. After shelling out $66 million to Bay the Mets won’t be in the market for Damon.
Philadelphia Phillies - With Raul Ibanez in left, Shane Victorino in center and Jayson Werth in right, the Phillies outfield is set in stone. Damon won’t be receiving an offer to play here.
Washington Nationals - If the Nationals were closer to contention and needed a reliable veteran presence, Damon might be their man. But they have Josh Willingham in left, Nyjer Morgan in center and Elijah Dukes in right with veteran utility man Willie Harris available to play behind them. No chance they would make an offer.
Houston Astros - The Astros are paying big money to Carlos Lee to play left. Michael Bourn finally showed signs he could actually get on base in 2009 and he is set in center. They Astros are also happy with Hunter Pence in right field. The Astros also are for sale and they not likely to offer Johnny a contract.
Milwaukee Brewers - With Ryan Braun in left, Carlos Gomez in center and Corey Hart in right the Brewers seem to be set with their outfield for 2010. Even if Gomez flops in center as he did in Minnesota, the Brewers have veteran Jody Gerut and some young outfielders they may try to advance before looking to add a veteran like Damon.
St. Louis Cardinals - The Cardinals are trying to bring back Matt Holliday to play left. They have Colby Rasmus in center and Ryan Ludwick in right. They could make an offer to Damon as backup plan if they don’t sign Holliday. But they may prefer a better home run bat such as Jermaine Dye instead. Damon’s arm would be a big liability in spacious Busch Stadium.
Chicago Cubs - The signing of Marlon Byrd for three years to play center field pretty much dries up Damon’s Windy City hopes. Alphonso Soriano is in left and Kosuke Fukedome is now in right and they are being paid top dollar. No chance Johnny signs here.
Pittsburgh Pirates - They have Lastings Milledge ticketed to play left, burgeoning star Andrew McCutchen in center and longtime minor-leaguer Garrett Jones gave them some offense in right field. Because the Pirates always seem to be in “dump payroll” mode, Johnny is not getting a big dollar offer here.
Cincinnati Reds - This is a possibility for Damon. Jay Bruce is set in right field and the Reds do have either Willie Taveras or youngster Drew Stubbs in center. Chris Dickerson was a major disappointment in left, hitting a weak .275 in 2009. Damon could help them as a leadoff or No. 2 hitter and a veteran presence in left. The question is dollars. The Reds will not offer Damon $10 million.
Arizona Diamondbacks - There is a possibility for Damon here because with Justin Upton in right and Chris Young in center, the D-backs could put Damon in left with Conor Jackson moved back to first base. The problem is that Eric Byrnes is still on the roster and because of that it is unlikely the D-backs will be ringing up Boras.
Los Angeles Dodgers - No chance here. The Dodgers have emerging stars Matt Kemp in center and Andre Ethier in right and they have Manny Ramirez playing for top dollar in left. If Johnny is play here it would be as a low-salaried backup and Damon will not accept the same role Juan Pierre played last season.
San Francisco Giants - There is a possibility here. The Giants did sign utility man Mark De Rosa and he could play left field. But he also could play the infield and only Aaron Rowand in center field is guaranteed a job. Because the Giants have a very good pitching staff, they need offense badly and a veteran like Damon could provide it. But will the Giants pay $10 million for Damon?
San Diego Padres - This team also could use Damon and his bat. One problem is that third baseman Chase Headley was moved to left field to accommodate Kevin Kouzmanoff. So it is doubtful that Damon would be made an offer to play center in this spacious park. The Padres also do not have the money to play Damon what he wants.
Colorado Rockies - It is doubtful the Rockies would add Damon. They have Brad Hawpe in right and youngsters Derrick Fowler to play left and Carlos Gonzalez to play center. They also have Ryan Spilboughs, Eric Young Jr., and Seth Smith around to compete for playing time. There is virtually no chance Damon would be wanted here.
So judging by this analysis, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman appears to be taking the correct tact with Damon and Boras in basically not budging from the one year, $7 million offer he left out there. The Yankees could possibly add another year making it two years at $14 million.
But Damon and Boras are rejecting this offer, hoping to get a two-year, $20 million to $23 million offer elsewhere. But the teams most in need of outfield help and offense are also the teams in smaller markets with limited payrolls.
So it would seem that until Damon seriously lines up another suitor, he will not get Cashman to budge off his offer. It would seem that Damon is being treated very similarly to Andy Pettitte.
Last winter, Pettitte declined a $10 million offer by the Yankees but when he did not receive offers from other clubs he had to settle for a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Yankees with incentives that brought the deal close to $10 million. Pettitte hated the offer but signed anyway and he received a $10.75 million contract this season.
Perhaps Cashman is low-balling Damon in order to make a stand on the 2010 payroll. But my question to him is why make stands on payroll on the good guys like Pettitte and Damon, who hustle, are great in the clubhouse and are veterans who contribute?
I would much rather the Yankees take hard lines on guys like Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Veras and Gary Sheffield, players who underperform or create problems in the clubhouse.
It would seem to me that the Yankees need Damon back far more than they realize. Hopefully it is not too late for sanity to return to the negotiations and Cashman can get it done.
I don’t believe for a minute Damon is gone until another team signs him. I refuse to think that way. Other Yankee fans should feel the same way.
Stay tuned . . .