The Yankees and Johnny Damon have reportedly discussed a return to the Bronx, but concerns over a lack of playing time have made the possible reunion unlikely.
Although the Yankees are set in the outfield, the team’s bench has been severely depleted this offseason. Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns have already signed elsewhere, and Marcus Thames seems destined to the do the same. As a result, the Yankees have no depth, literally.
Not only do the Yankees lack a viable fourth outfielder, but they also do not have a capable bat to backup Jorge Posada in the DH role. Last season, Posada and the Yankees outfield trio of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher missed a collective 92 games. If that is repeated in 2011 (or if Posada is forced to go back behind the plate), the team will not only need to acquire another pitcher during the season, but another hitter as well.
Damon isn’t a perfect fit. His defense is below average and he swings from the left side (although he has developed into an above average hitter against southpaws). The ideal acquisition would be a right handed bat capable of playing plus outfield defense, but no such candidate remains on the market. Vladimir Guerrero swings from the right side, but he really shouldn’t even keep a glove in his locker anymore. In other words, Damon, although an imperfect solution, is really the Yankees last chance to add quality depth via free agency.
From Damon’s perspective, the idea of relinquishing an everyday role is probably hard to accept. However, it isn’t hard to figure out a scenario in which he would play 100 games. Still, that may not be enough for a player used to being in the lineup every game. Ultimately, Damon’s decision may be determined by which teams can offer him a starting position. If a competitive team like the Rays is able to promise him extensive playing time, his choice would be easy. If he is only able to find playing time on an uncompetitive team, however, Damon may eventually decide that a more limited role in a place that he enjoys is the better option.
As has been the case all offseason, the Yankees will need to exercise patience as Damon sorts through his options, but if a reunion is in the offing, the signing would be a rare example of moving ahead by looking back.