All the right moves for the Yanks … for once

The thing that strikes me about the Yankees’ signing of Johnny Damon is that they needed him. Not for leadoff, necessarily, because I think the Yanks are just fine with Derek Jeter batting first and Alex Rodriguez or Hideki Matsui or, if he could develop into a decent contact and doubles hitter, Robinson Cano batting second. But they needed a centerfielder and at this point they weren’t going to find much in free agency if they didn’t get Damon. Based on their policy this offseason of hanging onto Cano, Chien-Ming Wang and prospects like Eric Duncan and Philip Hughes, the Yankees weren’t going to get a centerfielder through a trade. In that scenario, Juan Pierre was probably the most likely, but when he went to the Cubs, he was out. I suppose they could’ve explored a deal for Texas’ David Dellucci, Seattle’s Jeremy Reed (and the rumors of him heading to Boston will only intensify until the Red Sox get someone to fill Damon’s spot) or the Cubs’ Corey Patterson.

But the most important acquisition this offseason for the Yankees was not Damon or any one player. It was all the players because they filled the needs in center and the bullpen. You can see the difference this winter: Brian Cashman was spearheading the signings this time, not anyone in the Tampa braintrust. These moves fill holes and help the Yankees first and foremost. In recent years, the moves have been more for the wow factor, to make a splash, to grab the headlines. If the Yankees were going to deal a catching prospect and a good young pitcher in Javier Vazquez for a left-handed pitcher, they might’ve been better off going after a younger, healthier guy like Barry Zito or Mark Mulder (who was available last winter) instead of Randy Johnson.

Instead, the Yanks went after need:

Damon. As has been pointed out in so many places, this deal not only helps the Yankees, it hurts the Red Sox. More than one pundit has moved the Blue Jays up as the second-best team in the AL East and slid Boston down. That may change if the Sox fill Damon’s hole with Ken Griffey Jr. or Andruw Jones (HA! Kidding.) and find a shortstop in Miguel Tejada. But for now, Toronto may be closer to wild-card contention than we had a right to expect a few days ago.

Now, I don’t know if Damon is a better leadoff hitter than Jeter (and the numbers favor Jeter), but he’s one of the best in the game today and it certainly doesn’t hurt to move everyone down a spot to accommodate Damon. You think Damon will get some good pitches to hit with Jeter and Rodriguez coming up after him? There’s no way pitchers want to walk Damon and risk leaving a hole on the right side for Jeter to slap that ball through, or to create a situation where A-Rod is batting with two men on base. It’ll be sad to see the hair go, however. Yankee fans will want to hope that his powers aren’t tied to his long locks.

Mike Myers. Another signing that takes from the Red Sox to give to the Yankees (robbing from the super-rich to give to the mega-uber-rich). The left-handed specialist will come in handy in the late innings against some big (or at least capable) bats both in and out of the division: David Ortiz, Aubrey Huff, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Mark Teixeira and Travis Hafner to name a few. Myers is often a one-out guy, but he’s one of the best.

Kyle Farnsworth. Fantasy owners keep wanting Farnsworth to be a closer, but it appears that Farnsworth keeps wanting to get out of it. Without going back to look at reports, I don’t know why the Cubs traded him to the Tigers last year, but Chicago struggled to find a closer in 2005 until they moved starter Ryan Dempster there and they could’ve used him. Then the Braves acquired him from Detroit last year and used him as a closer, a job he seemingly would’ve kept had he re-signed with Atlanta. Instead, he took a setup role, more money and a perceived better chance at a championship ring to be a Yankee. But when you look at Tom Gordon’s age and the uninspiring careers of New York’s other potential right-handed setup guys, Farnsworth stands out as perhaps the best option.

Octavio Dotel. After major arm surgery last season, it’s not clear when Dotel will be available. But just as they did with Jon Lieber when he was coming off Tommy John surgery (and a 20-win season), the Yankees made an investment for the future, knowing that if Dotel can be healthy by July, it will be like acquiring a setup man in a trade before the deadline. The Mets were trying to sign Dotel for the same reason, a move that would’ve been just as important for them as it is for the Yanks.

So rather than going out and bringing in Brian Giles to move him to centerfield (a move that would’ve been more for the wow factor than need), the Yankees didn’t look for the splashiest move this winter. They seemed to consider more options and evaluate more players and then make the move that was the best fit for them. (I left the re-signing of Hideki Matsui out because it’s a slightly different situation when you’re talking about a capable, All-Star you already have. Besides, the “need” in left field would have only been there if Matsui signed elsewhere.)

And I’m sure George Steinbrenner didn’t have to be convinced too much to steal the Red Sox centerfielder.

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