Bodley: Damon's destiny sealed by pride?
Ultimately, club, player happiness worth more than dollars
Several years ago, Stan Kasten, never timid to express opinions that go against the grain, told me the best thing that could happen to professional sports would be elimination of player agents.
During the 2005 interview, Kasten rattled off reasons why this would work, and believe it or not, he wasn't assassinated. But his words fell on deaf ears.
It wasn't too long after that Kasten, former executive of the Atlanta Braves, NBA Hawks and NHL Thrashers became the Washington Nationals' president. That's the post he holds today and I haven't heard him talk about this subject since.
I never agreed with Stan's philosophy, but I'm convinced this baseball offseason some players are suffering and don't have jobs because their agents have miscalculated the market. Or been sympathetic to the player's deep-seeded desires.
It's all about pride and money. Agents always insist the player has the final word, but when the advice is not to accept an offer "because you're worth more," that stance can backfire.
Johnny Damon is a prime example.
Damon, a free agent, wanted to return and play left field for the Yankees. The Yankees wanted Damon.
Scott Boras, most powerful agent in baseball, inflated Damon's worth. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says Boras told him at one point Damon, 36, wouldn't sign for anything less than $13 million a year. That's what the player earned in 2009.
Cashman, obviously not bluffing, told Boras what the team could afford, which ultimately became $2 million.
The Yankees, after landing center fielder Curtis Granderson from Detroit during the Winter Meetings, were in the driver's seat. Chances of Damon returning began to decrease even more when they signed free agent Nick Johnson and obtained pitcher Javier Vazquez in a trade with Atlanta.
Boras told MLB.com on Thursday that Cashman told him on Dec. 17: "'We cannot make Johnny an offer because we've got an offer out to Nick Johnson which he's going to take.' So I said, 'You're not even making and offer to Johnny Damon?'"
Boras added that "Cashman asked if the Johnson deal didn't work out, what did we want and I said we wanted two years -- at the same salary ($13 million) he made in 2009 because he had a great year. The phone went dead for a moment because Cash obviously had been hearing we wanted four years."
Boras said Cashman countered with $14 million over two years and "I replied, 'I don't know why we're discussing this, because why would you offer Johnny Damon half of what he earned with the kind of year he had?'"
It seems to me both sides could have backed down and worked something out.
Even with that, the door still remained open.
After all that wheeling and dealing, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said only $2 million was left in the budget -- for Damon or any other outfielder.
So, when the Yanks reached agreement with free-agent outfielder Randy Winn for about $2 million this week, it was all but definite -- Damon's days with the Yankees are over.
What is really sad is that Damon, who hit .282 with 24 homers and drove in 82 runs last season, is scratching for a job with less than three weeks to the start of Spring Training. He'll probably end up with a team that's way down his preferred list and for not nearly as much money as Boras was demanding. The Tigers, Rays, Reds and A's have been mentioned as possibilities.
Boras asked for two years and $20 million in December. The New York Post reported "the Damon camp, according to sources, continued to float that they had offers in the two-year, $19 million range that Bobby Abreu received from the Angels."
Everyone loses here. Damon wanted to return to the Yankees and they felt he was a good fit.
If I were a player, I'd love to have Boras represent me. He drives tremendously hard bargains for his clients and seldom allows them to take less than top dollar.
"If you're a highly-skilled, highly-ethical practitioner, your main goal in life is to look out only for the best interest of your one client at a time. Period," Kasten told me during the interview five years ago. "Nothing else matters -- not the interest of the team, the player's teammates, the community, the franchise or the sport."
When a player has a strong desire to play for a certain team and when the team seems willing to negotiate, that's when the agent should step aside and not be so rigid.
Alex Rodriguez, also represented by Boras, did just that when the agent and the team were locking horns.
A year ago, Abreu was in the same predicament facing Damon. The expected offers weren't there and he ultimately settled for a one-year, $5 million contract with the Angels.
The Yankees reportedly offered Damon a two-year, $14 million deal early in the offseason and it was quickly rejected.
At that moment, instead of turning their backs on it, maybe Damon himself should have knocked on Hal Steinbrenner's door and let his true feelings be known.
That seldom happens these days, because in a sense, players put their careers and futures in the hands of their agents.
As we begin the countdown to Spring Training -- first workout for pitchers and catchers is set to occur on Feb. 18 -- over 100 free agents remain unsigned. Included in this group are Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield, who may end up in the Hall of Fame.
And Johnny Damon.
Maybe in this economy, the money isn't there. Maybe because they're in the twilight years of their careers, they must face the reality of their worth.
Or maybe their agents are refusing to face the reality of this economy.
Regardless, agents should swallow their pride and counsel their clients to do the same thing.
There comes a time when happiness is more important than dollars -- on both sides.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.