The Fur Flies

Now that Johnny Damon absolutely, positively, won’t be returning to the Yankees (except maybe at the trade deadline) the stories are flying about who lied and who lost.  Personally, I think everything you need to know about this situation is summed up nicely by Brian Cashman in this quote:

“On Dec. 17, Scott’s exact words were that he would not take a penny less than $13 million a year for two years. We believed him.”

I really like the way Cashman added, "We believed him" to the end of that.  It’s a nice touch.

The need to fill column inches in a slow sports cycle have led this story to be way overblown.  The fact is, Damon was pretty much gone the moment the Yankees signed Nick Johnson.  Sure, they could have brought him back to play left field, but I never got the feeling the Yankees wanted to do that.  Rightly or wrongly (I think rightly) the Yankees viewed Damon as primarily a DH as this point.  Think about the playoffs, it was Damon who the Yankees substituted for in late innings situations, not Swisher.  There was Game 3 of the ALCS when the Angels loaded the bases with one out in the 10th.  Obviously, the outfield is going to play shallow, but even with that, Girardi removed Damon and put Hairston in left.  That move cost the Yankees their DH in the game, but Girardi had no choice, he knew Damon couldn’t throw out Jeff Mathis, a catcher, even though he was playing halfway in. 

The way to look at what the Yankees have done this offseason is this way.  Out go Damon, Matsui and Cabrera.  In come Granderson, Johnson and Winn.  Using an average of projection systems, the trio of Damon, Matsui and Cabrera could be expected to create about 225 runs in 2010.  The trio of Winn, Granderson and Johnson could be expected to create about 240 runs.  That’s a net difference of +15 for the Yankees and we haven’t talked about defense yet.  Factor in the addition of Javier Vazquez to the rotation and the Yankees have definitely upgraded their ballclub.

Now, that doesn’t mean they will win 103 games again, but they certainly could  They were a bit lucky in 2009 and probably should have won 101 games using Baseball Prospectuses’ third order wins calculation.  The lineup is a trickier proposition.  It isn’t far fetched to expect significant declines in production from Jeter and Posada because of their age.  A-Rod is also at an age where his numbers could drop back a bit.  But, you have Swisher, Teixeira, Granderson and Johnson in what should be their peak years.  You have Cano just arriving at what should be his peak years.  Add it all up and by removing Damon and Matsui for Granderson and Johnson, the Yankees got significantly younger at two spots and the lineup should be able to weather age regressions at cacther, short and third.  If they had kept Damon and Matsui, they would have been at risk for age regressions at five spots instead of three. 

Now, I would feel a bit more comfortable with the lineup if the Yankees added, as rumored, a player like Gomes or Thames on a minor league deal.  Jamie Hoffman is an interesting player, but Gomes and Thames have shown they can hit in the bigs.  Put one of them on the bench and you have a dangerous righty bat to use in a number of different ways.  But, even if the Yankees stand pat, they have an excellent chance of winning the AL East again and with an improved rotation, going far in the playoffs.

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And since I mentioned Marcus Thames, I thought I would throw out a trivia question.  Thames homered in his first big league at bat off of what pitcher?