NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman maintained all winter that the Yankees were perfectly happy to go into the 2005 season with Bubba Crosby as their starting center fielder.
Whether or not that is true, we'll never find out.
The Yankees inked Johnny Damon to a four-year deal worth between $52-$53 million late Tuesday night, bringing in the leadoff hitter they so desperately sought -- while swiping the catalyst of the rival Red Sox's offense in the process.
The signing took the baseball world by surprise, though it probably shouldn't have. Unlike many other clubs, the Yankees have never backed away from a player represented by agent Scott Boras (see Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Brown, Bernie Williams, et al).
That said, the Yankees were not prepared to meet Boras' original demands for the 32-year-old center fielder, which included a seven-year contract for $84 million.
Cashman wouldn't comment on any specifics regarding the Damon negotiations, as he doesn't speak about deals that have not been made official.
But a Yankees official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Yankees had been closely monitoring the Damon situation all winter, hoping Boras would come down to three or four years. Once that happened, it was just a matter of blowing Boston's offer out of the water to secure Damon's services.
"We wanted him," the official said. "But we weren't going to go more than four years. If that's what it was going to take, we would have gone elsewhere."
In an offseason in which the Yankees sat back and watched other teams make big moves -- most notably the Red Sox, who dealt for Josh Beckett; the Mets, who acquired Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca; and the Blue Jays, who added A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and Lyle Overbay -- the Damon signing represents the first marquee move for the Bombers, who had re-signed Hideki Matsui and added four relievers to their bullpen to that point.
There was a perception that the Yankees would patch together the position this season, possibly make a midseason trade, then make a big push to sign a free agent next winter -- Torii Hunter or Mike Cameron, perhaps? -- or wait until 2007 and make a run at Andruw Jones.
Publicly content to insert Crosby -- a .221 career hitter with just 163 big-league at-bats on his resume -- into a powerful lineup which could support his light bat, Cashman stayed in the background while other teams made their pitches for Damon.
The Dodgers and Orioles also appeared interested in Damon, but Los Angeles signed Kenny Lofton to fill its hole in center, while Baltimore didn't want to commit a fifth year to the veteran -- which some believed to be crucial to Damon picking the Orioles.
That essentially left Damon with two choices: the Yankees and Red Sox.
Boston, which had offered Damon a four-year deal worth $40 million (the same contract the Sox gave Edgar Renteria and Jason Varitek), wouldn't budge from that offer. That opened the door for the Yankees, who increased their offer from $48 million to $52 million on Tuesday, sealing the deal.
Now with Damon on board through the 2009 season, the Yankees have a solid nucleus of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano all locked up for at least the next four years.
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.