Johnny Damon said over the weekend that he expects to sign with a team before the end of the week. Hopefully, that's true because the entire thing has really turned into a standoff between Major League Baseball and Scott Boras that has very little to do with the baseball skills of Damon.
Ben Reiter of SI.com does his best to make the case for why Damon is still hanging around without an employer, citing his throwing arm, defense and the glut of similar players as reasons for the lack of interest. The problem is that Damon's defense isn't that bad and his arm, while awful, doesn't do much to limit what he brings to a team with his bat. Reiter cites Jermaine Dye and Russell Branyan as similar players, but Dye was much worse than Damon in 2009 and Branyan's track record is far more suspect. Damon's actually got a lot more in common with Jason Bay than either of those player, so long as you keep in mind that you're signing him for a year.
None of that has swayed Brian Cashman and the Yankees, though. They maintain that they have only $2 million left to spend on the roster for the upcoming season, something Cashman hammered home on Tuesday when he said that Damon's "abilities exceed my physical ability to keep my finances afloat." It's a good line, because it touches on Boras's repeated pitches of Damon's talents as a way to get a higher salary from teams.
That's what this is really about at this point. The Yankees (or any other team, it seems) won't budge because it will give Boras yet another win in his often criticized ploys to drive his players for bigger salaries than conventional wisdom says they deserve. It's a fair enough line in the sand to draw, although you have to wonder why there are 20-odd teams looking the other way from a player who would help.
The Yankees have a number in mind for their budget and that's fine, but let's be a little bit more honest about their plans. They are still talking to guys like Rocco Baldelli and Reed Johnson. They are cheaper than Damon, to be sure, but does anyone really think the Yankees will just stand pat and not make a move that adds salary during the season if the need arises? Of course they will, so the budget is more fluid than Cashman makes it seem.
Damon isn't essential to the chances of the Yankees, though. Ricky Ledee and Chad Curtis won World Series rings so Brett Gardner and Baldelli could do the same thing. Cashman can make this stand and come out smelling like a rose. He'll also come out smelling like a rose if Damon winds up back in the Bronx for $5 million. The rest of the general managers in baseball can't say the same thing.