01/30/10 8:55 PM EST
Yankees' roster suits Girardi just fine
Skipper thinks loss of Damon will be countered by additions
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
It is a changed group from the one that piled on the Yankee Stadium infield in Game 6 of the Fall Classic, to be sure. The Yankees have said goodbye to a number of major pieces from the championship club, most recently closing the door on Johnny Damon's possible return.
Among those new to the clubhouse mix will be outfielder Curtis Granderson, designated hitter Nick Johnson and starter Javier Vazquez, and while all three are accomplished Major Leaguers, they will have some large pinstriped shadows to step into.
"I like what we've done, but I'm going to miss the players that we had," Girardi said. "Whenever you win as a group, you're going to miss not only what they did on the field, but their personalities.
"I'm going to miss Melky [Cabrera]. We're all going to miss Melky and [Hideki] Matsui and Johnny and [Phil] Coke. We're going to miss them, but we've gotten younger, we've added rotation depth, and our young relievers have another year of experience. Are we better? I don't know, but I like our club again."
Girardi spoke on Saturday at the Greentree Country Club in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he appeared with former teammate Bernie Williams at a charity function to benefit the Hillside Food Outreach.
And while general manager Brian Cashman said this week that the door closed a long time ago on bringing Damon back into the fold, Girardi said he spoke to the outfielder several times over the winter and had remained hopeful that Damon might find his way back.
It still could happen, at some point. Damon floated the idea this week that perhaps the Yankees could re-acquire him before the July 31 Trade Deadline, if for some reason the Bombers were in need of another outfield bat to make that playoff push.
Imagine if the Red Sox and the Yankees needed the same player at the same time, and it just happened to be Damon?
"You never say never," Girardi said. "The possibilities in baseball are endless. I don't think anyone is quite sure from our standpoint where Johnny is going to end up. But Johnny was a great Yankee, we loved having him, and we're going to miss him."
In the meantime, Girardi is enthusiastic about the team he is bringing to camp. He views the outfield mix of Granderson, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Randy Winn as a versatile group, one that could create some competition in the spring -- especially between Gardner and Winn.
"The thing is, everyone's going to play," Girardi said. "That's the bottom line. I believe that sometimes guys need days off. We had the situation last year where everybody thought we had too many outfielders and [Xavier] Nady got hurt [in April]. I don't think we can have too much depth. Having four guys gives us good depth, and that's important, because you never know what's going to happen."
The outfield could present the Yankees with their most interesting decisions to make. Not only will they have to decide whether to play Gardner or Winn -- and how much -- but it remains possible that the Yankees could move Granderson to left field, freeing one of the two to play center field.
"Curtis is the type of player that would do anything that you ask of him," Girardi said. "I've talked to our outfielders. We're going to see what happens in Spring Training. We're not necessarily going to nail down one position and tell a guy, 'This is where you're going to be.' We might have to make some adjustments with the players that we have. All of our outfielders are versatile, and I really believe that."
Though the Yankees had said they were seeking a right-handed hitting outfielder to complement Gardner, Girardi had positive things to say about Winn, a switch-hitter who fared poorly last season against left-handed pitching. Winn rates as a plus defender and should help the Yankees on the bases and at the plate, Girardi said.
"I think he can be a good player for us," Girardi said. "I know people have talked about Randy Winn replacing Johnny Damon, and that wasn't why we signed Randy Winn. We signed Randy Winn so we'd have depth to make sure we have depth and make sure that we have competition. If someone gets hurt, we have enough people to fill the spot. Randy Winn has been an everyday player for a long time. We're comfortable with him in that spot."
Of course, Damon won't be easily forgotten after four years in New York, including going out on top with one of the great all-time World Series baserunning plays, that crucial double steal in Game 4 at Philadelphia.
While Girardi sounds prepared to attack his outfield mix without the veteran in consideration, the manager understands the mentality of a fan base that doesn't seem all that ready to move on from a championship roster just yet.
"The one thing that's so great about Yankees fans is their loyalty," Girardi said. "I remember coming in and trying to replace Mike Stanley. It's not easy. When fans love you here and you leave, someone's going to hear about it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.