We have heard all winter that the New York Yankees could not re-sign Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui because of their restricted budget.
That also was the reason why the Yankees passed on “Cadillac” free agent outfielders like Matt Holliday and Jason Bay.
Then we heard that the Yankees were looking at low-cost options like Reed Johnson and Rocco Baldelli. General manager Brian Cashman also said that Xavier Nady was out of the Yankees’ price range.
When Matsui signed with the Los Angeles Angels for $6 million Cashman said Matsui never would have accepted $6 million from the Yankees. Do we know that for sure?
The Yankees, Cashman said, now have only about $2 million to spend on a right-handed-hitting outfielder.
Then the news comes Tuesday that the Chicago Cubs had signed Nady to a one-year contract for a guaranteed $3.3 million with about $2 million in incentives for games played. The deal is pending a physical to determine if Nady’s second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow is progressing on schedule.
Since when do the Yankees pass on an outfielder who hit 25 home runs, drove in 97 runs and batted .305 in his last healthy season over a meager $3.3 million?
Ever since George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees the team has spent lavishly on free agents. For every signing of a Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter there have also been mistakes like Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa.
But Yankee fans never had a doubt that the front office was trying to put the best team it could on the field — until now.
This haggling all off-season with Damon has really been belittling to one free-agent signing the Yankees did not have to regret.
Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, the self-proclaimed smartest man in baseball, determined Damon was too old and was breaking down at age 32. Rather than satisfy Damon’s demand for a four-year contract, Epstein dealt for Coco Crisp instead.
Four years later Crisp is long gone from the Red Sox roster and Damon is coming off four seasons where he played 141 or more games and averaged 19 home runs, 74 RBIs and batted .285. He also averaged 23 stolen bases.
Oh yeah, Damon has a weak arm in left field and he also has had issues with calf injuries. But he also has been on the disabled just once in 15 major league seasons. Damon also was the man at the plate in the World Series that took Brad Lidge through that long clutch at-bat that led to a single, a steal of second and the grand larceny of third that set the stage for the Yankees comeback victory in Game 4.
But budgets are budgets, I guess. The Yankees can’t afford Johnny.
That still does not explain Nady. Cashman told us he was out of the Yankees price range. Yet he signs for a piddling $3.3 million. What is going on here?
Nady did everything he could to help the Yankees after they traded for him and Damaso Marte in the middle of the 2008 season. In the deal to acquire Nady, Cashman traded the Yankees best outfield prospect in 20-year-old Jose Tabata.
This winter the Yankees traded their best outfield prospect in Austin Jackson to obtain Curtis Granderson.
I find it odd that the Yankees plead poverty on the one hand and on the other hand trade promising outfield prospects away to obtain guys like Nady and Granderson. Then when those veterans get to the end of their contracts we can’t afford to bring them back and the cupboard is bare of prospects to replace them.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the younger prospects in the first place? That way they can be signed for contracts like $2 million until they hit their free-agent years. My point is that I would feel a whole lot better going into the 2010 season with the Yankees trying to adhere to a budget if they had guys like Tabata and Jackson on the roster instead of Brett Gardner, Jamie Hoffman and Greg Golson.
That would at least mean that the Yankees were trying to fill a position of need with some homegrown talent instead of veteran retreads like Reed Johnson and Rocco Baldelli. If the Yankees fail to repeat as world champions in 2010 will Yankee fans exclaim “That is OK. At least they stayed within their 2010 budget”?
I don’t think so. I think Yankee fans will see a young Jackson playing well for the Tigers, a young Tabata progressing to the majors with the Pirates, a veteran Nady pounding home runs at Wrigley Field and a Damon getting clutch hits with whomever he finally signs and ask why aren’t they in Yankee uniforms.
This winter’s events also puts an awful lot of pressure on Gardner too. Though I like him a lot, if he hits .250 or ends up on the disabled list for three months than this whole winter dance of the dollar by Cashman will be wasted without another championship banner to display.
I sure hope Cashman knows what he is doing because it sure is looking gloomy to me.