What a turnaround Johnny Damon made in just a matter of months. In fact, you could call it a U-turn.
Damon's signing with the Yankees is a complete reversal from his position earlier in the season when he said he could never leave the Red Sox for New York.
"There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they're going to come after me hard," he told mlb.com last May. "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."
Well, that was then, this is now. Just seven months later, money seems to talk a lot louder than any sense of loyalty.
My, how times have changed. When the Brooklyn Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants following the 1956 season, Robinson retired rather than put on the hated uniform of the team he'd been sworn to beat for a decade. Now that's the personification of loyalty.
But maybe it's more than just money. Apparently Damon believes that the Yankees, as currently structured, are more prepared to compete for another World Series title than the Red Sox are right now. He may be right. And Damon also seems to have been concerned about his legacy.
According to Damon's agent Scott Boras, the 32-year-old Damon, who has 1,789 hits in 11 major league seasons, also thought about career statistics in choosing the Yankees.
"He had a goal in this process, where he wanted to get to 3,000 hits. He'll be young enough."
So while Damon had his agenda, the Red Sox apparently had an agenda of their own.
Sources have indicated that, for various reasons, the Sox had a limit as to what they would offer Damon in terms of both length and value of contract. Among the Sox concerns: Damon's age (32), the wear his body has undergone due to his his all-out playing style, and particularly the deterioration of his right shoulder over the last few years. In fact, rumor has it that some in the Sox' hierarchy thought Damon's contract demands were unreasonable and therefore preferred simply letting him go in favor of pursuing a younger center fielder, such as Seattle's Jeremy Reed or Cleveland's Coco Crisp.
In a phone call to Red Sox owner John Henry on Tuesday evening, Boras told Henry that Damon had an offer on the table from another team, and that if the Red Sox had a five year offer to make, it was time to do it. Henry said he would have to "talk to his people," but Boras informed him that he was not calling to negotiate but simply to let him know that another deal was imminent.
Henry now says that the Red Sox weren't willing to make a five-year offer to Damon and figured that as long as one was available to him, there was no reason to increase the value of their four year offer. In the end, the Sox were surprised to learn that Damon had agreed to a four-year contract with New York.
For better or for worse, the fact that the Red Sox thought anything over $10 million was too high a price for Damon, while the Yankees didn't hesitate to make that offer, says a lot about the two organizations. The Yankees will have seven players in their everyday lineup making at least $10 million per year next season. As of now, the Red Sox have two - Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez. And Damon will be the third lowest paid player in the Yankees lineup after Alex Rodriguez ($20.5m), Derek Jeter ($18.9m), and Jason Giambi ($17.1m), while Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield will match Damon's $13 million salary.
The end result is that the Sox could feel Damon's loss in multiple ways. He had great value as a patient hitter who usually sees a lot of pitches in each at bat. One of Damon's greatest strengths was his ability to make pitchers work, to foul off balls, and to really work the count.
Now that Damon is gone, the Sox will turn their attention to the considerable task of replacing him at the top of the batting order, as well as in the outfield. Their most likely bait will be either Matt Clement or, more likely, Bronson Arroyo. David Wells' trade request will surely be granted, so its reasonable to assume the Sox will lose two members of last season's rotation.
As a result, the Sox are said to be interested in signing free agent Kevin Milwood, the AL ERA leader (2.86) last season with Cleveland. Milwood, who will be 31 next season, owns a a career ERA of 3.76, to go along with a 107-75 career record. A.J. Burnett, who just signed a five year, $55 million deal with Toronto has an almost identical career ERA (3.73), but a significantly less impressive 49-50 career record. If Burnett warranted that type of deal, so will Milwood. The good news is that despite having an aversion to long term deals, the Sox can clearly afford Milwood now that Damon is gone. Let's hope they open the checkbook this time around.
And fortunately for the Sox, the leadoff hitter they now need may already be on their roster. New second baseman Mark Loretta has a higher career on-base percentage (.365) than Damon (.353), so they may not have to look very far after all.
That may be looking on the bright side, but right now we could use the view. As it stands, the 2006 Red Sox are going to have a very different look, and this is, indeed, the end of an era.
Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.