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Yankees, Damon would've been a solid fit

Talk about a dumb divorce.

 

The Yankees need Johnny Damon. Damon needs the Yankees. But so much for happily ever after.

 

The World Series champions will replace Damon with Randy Winn, Brett Gardner and maybe a right-handed hitter such as Rocco Baldelli on a minor-league contract.

 

Seriously. The Yankees, you see, are on a budget .

I'm calling it now: The Yankees will be looking for a better left fielder in July. Damon, possibly headed to a second-division club, will be one of their prime trade targets.

 

Enjoy Oakland, Johnny, or wherever you land.

 

Oh, Damon's agent, Scott Boras, still might pull off one of his patented escapes. But none of the teams currently linked to Damon -- legitimately or not -- is a big spender.

 

The A's and Rays are bargain-hunting. The Reds have not even re-signed the modestly priced Jonny Gomes. The Tigers, in need of a leadoff man and left-handed hitter, are a good match for Damon, and they found enough money to award closer Jose Valverde a two-year, $14 million free-agent contract. Their preference, though, might be an infielder.

 

Put it all together, and a one-year contract in the $6 million to $8 million range for Damon seems likely. Boras, however, is seeking at least $9 million, according to one interested executive.

 

The Yankees, coming off a championship season in a new ballpark, say they could not afford such a salary. They drew the line with Damon, for reasons that only they understand.

 

Boras, who told The New York Times that the Yankees never even made Damon an offer, needed to shop his client to other teams more aggressively.

 

There is simply no excuse for a player of this quality to be in such a compromised position.

 

Damon, 36, had a higher adjusted OPS last season than Bobby Abreu -- a career-high adjusted OPS, in fact. Abreu, who is five months younger than Damon, re-signed with the Angels for $19 million over two years without even becoming a free agent. Damon is scrounging for a job.

 

Raul Ibanez, 37, signed a three-year, $31.5 million free-agent contract with the Phillies in an even worse economy last off-season.

 

Mike Cameron, 37, signed a two-year, $15.5 million free-agent contract with the Red Sox this off-season.

 

Where's Johnny?

 

True, Damon is a below-average defender, but Ibanez hardly was considered Gold Glove material. Neither was Adam Dunn, who signed a two-year, $20 million free-agent contract with the Nationals last off-season, nor Pat Burrell, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Rays.

 

The new, bottom-line Yankees should take no satisfaction in having read the market better than Boras. Their brilliant analytical skills will leave them with the plodding, frequently injured Nick Johnson rather than Damon in the No. 2 spot, and a left-field grouping reminiscent of their ill-fated Doug Mientkiewicz-Josh Phelps duo at first base in 2007.

 

The Yankees, rather than pick through the modest list of remaining free agents, could have just traded for someone like the Nationals' Josh Willingham or Royals' David DeJesus, both of whom will earn less than $5 million this season.

 

Winn, the winner of the Yankees' $2 million lottery, is a switch-hitter who batted .158 against left-handers last season, .292 against right-handers. Gardner bats left, so the chances of a platoon appear, well, minimal.

 

Instead, the Yankees plan to offer nonroster invitations to one or more right-handed hitting outfielders; earlier this week, they acquired one such player -- Greg Golson, a speedy type -- from the Rangers.

 

Winn, 35, is a solid corner defender, and defense is the new offense of statistically-minded executives. But Reed Johnson, a right-handed hitting free agent, appeared a more logical fit.

 

Winn had the seventh lowest slugging percentage in the National League last season. He should benefit moving from AT&T Park to the new Yankee Stadium, but let's not kid ourselves. There is no chance he will exploit the stadium the way Damon did.

 

Damon was proven in New York, proven in the postseason. He and Hideki Matsui were part of the Yankees' championship fiber. Yes, both are in their mid-30s. But something will be missing -- something immeasurable -- without them.

 

Losing one, I can understand. Losing both, and replacing them with lesser talents, that's too big a risk.

 

The Yankees miscalculated. Damon miscalculated. Both will be poorer for it.