There was his impossibly weak throwing arm that make me wonder if he was actually right handed but never figured it out. It was so easy to hate his faux-Jesusy look, the "Idiots" and "Cowboy Up" bullshit and the goofy speech impediment he used to talk about it all. Above all, the grand slam he hit off Javier Vasquez in the 2004 ALCS was far too painful for me to acknowledge the possibility of ever actively rooting for him at the time.
I certainly never thought I would be in favor of the Yankees offering him another contract at the end of this year. However, nearly four years later, Damon has been one of the most durable players on the Yankees and has continued to pull his weight offensively, even after being shifted to left field.
Tyler Kepner talked to Damon yesterday and Johnny had this to say about his impending free agency:
I don’t know where else I would want to go to. Obviously, that’s not the right thing to say when you’re about ready to approach free agency, but I’m very happy with playing in New York, and my family’s happy I play for New York. There’s no bigger place to go. If you play well here, you’re going to get paid. New York has the resources.
It's important to note that Scott Boras is still his agent and if Damon is anything like the other capitalist robots manufactured by the Boras Corporation, you can take that quote with a grain of salt. In fact, if Damon is anything like the 2005 version of himself, we probably shouldn't put too much stock in his stated intentions, either (h/t NoMaas):
There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they are going to come after me hard. It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need.
As with any contractual negotiation, I'd be in favor of bringing back Damon at the right price. UZR doesn't think too highly of his defense this year, but I'm not ready to relegate Damon solely to DH status. Just last year his UZR/150 was 11.6 and this year it's -9.6. Has he really fallen of that sharply? Even with his below average defensive, Johnny has been so good with the bat that he projects to be worth $14.8M over the course of the season, comfortably more than the $13M he's making.
Damon's already knocked 22 homers this year, just two off his career high. True, 15 of those have come at home and every one has been to right field, but that's not an inherently bad thing. If the Yanks sign him again next year he'll be playing half of his games in the same park.
With Hideki Matsui likely moving on after this season, the Yanks won't have someone plugging up the DH slot who can't play another position. The Yanks have stated that they want to keep that position open to be able to rest other position players, which keeps the line up flexible, but Damon is still a somewhat competent left fielder, even if he doesn't rebound next year. His bat more than makes up for his defensive short-comings.
From his comments in Kepner's story, it's safe to say that Damon will be looking for at least 2 years. Should the Yanks bring him back for 2 years/$20M? Would that be enough? Who is going to give him more than that? Given the way the New Stadium plays, it seems that he would be worth more to the Yanks than anyone else. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Cash & Co. cut ties with Damon, but if they keep him around, I wouldn't be surprised to see him lift another twenty-something homers over the short porch in right field next year, either.