Hindsight is 20/20. Foresight is priceless.

I wrote a blog post back in November saying that the Yankees were going into the offseason targeting Damon over Matsui. That has been proven to be true by the winter moves. Now, with pitchers and catchers officially reporting to spring training tomorrow, and with baseball just around the corner, some of you can’t help but wonder “What if”. That is understandable. Hopefully, I can put your minds at ease.
Talking to fellow Yankees fans, and reading several Yankees blogs, many questions are being raised about whether or not letting Matsui go was the right move, especially with Damon’s departure from New York. This is natural, as spring training is not only a time to look toward the upcoming season, but it is also a time to reflect on the winter moves.

The main questions I’ve seen being asked are: What if we knew Johnny Damon would reject our offer? Had we known back then what we know now, would we have let Hideki Matsui walk away so easily?

I’ll be asking quite a few questions in this post, but worry not my fellow fans, I’ll give you my answers to the questions at the end of my post. 
First, before I give my answers, it’s time for a little objectivity. Let me raise the concerns that come to my mind.

It was made clear right from the beginning that the Yankees were working with a fixed budget, and they would not go over it. It’s also obvious that there is no way the Yankees could have known that a player would reject a fair offer. However, a little bit of foresight could have gone a long way. Here’s what we did know back then:
  • Johnny Damon puts money first (as evident from his departure from Boston)
  • Johnny Damon is a Scott Boras client, and Boras clients tend to get greedy
  • Due to the strict budget, it would be a choice between Damon and Matsui
  • Both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui were essential members of our lineup in 2009
A little foresight could have changed things. We could have foreseen the possibility of Johnny Damon rejecting our offer since it was a paycut for him. Having that possibility present in the back of their minds, should the Yankees have left some wiggle-room with Matsui?
I obviously have no inside information on any negotiations, I’m just a fan trying to make sense of the information given to me. I don’t know what went on between the Yankees and Hideki Matsui, but I find it highly unlikely that Cashman didn’t even put a Torre-like offer on the table. I’m not saying that Matsui should have accepted it, he obviously found a better offer with the Angels. What I’m saying is: knowing that there is a possibility that our Plan A (Damon) would fall through, shouldn’t the Yankees have been a little more lenient with the Matsui offer? 
I’m involved in many business negotiations in my career, I know that there are ways to put an offer on the table and make it known that there’s some wiggle room for an agreement to be reached. There are also ways to show that the offer is final and non-negotiable, which is what I believe the Yankees did with Matsui.
Was that the right way to go? I agreed with Cashman when he chose Damon over Matsui, simply because of Matsui’s aging knees. Now that Damon is out of the picture, I can’t help but wonder what it would have looked like if we added the $2 million we paid for Randy Winn, and maybe some of what we paid for the others, to our original offer to Matsui. Surely that offer would have been in the same ballpark as what the Angels paid.
As I said, I don’t know what went on in the negotiations, so I have to show the other side of the coin. The Yankees could have wanted Matsui back (but not over Damon), so that means that they might have left some room for an agreement with Hideki. Could it be that Godzilla no longer wanted to play in New York? I can’t imagine why the World Series MVP would want to leave the team with which he just won the World Series. So that leads me to believe that he wanted to come back.
So, should Matsui have waited before signing with the Angels? He sure seemed to have accepted their offer quickly. In the blink of an eye, Hideki was off to Los Angeles. That seemed a little strange to me. Which is what makes me think that the Yankees rejected Matsui, Matsui did not reject the Yankees.
I’ve asked the questions, now it’s time to give you my own personal answers. Let me remind you that these are my answers, and obviously not answers given by any Yankee official.
Johnny Damon could make up for no Hideki Matsui in our lineup, but Matsui cannot make up for no Damon. The Yankees knew this, Johnny Damon knew this, even Hideki Matsui probably knew this. If we put our emotions aside and thought about it logically, we (as fans) could have known this, too. I knew it, I even blogged it, and I’m not some baseball genius. I’m just capable of putting my feelings aside, ignoring how much I love a player, and looking at things from a “strictly business” point of view. Remember, with Major League Baseball, and all professional sports: it’s nothing personal, dear, it’s strictly business.
As I already mentioned, the Yankees were working with a budget. They would not in any way go over this budget. That was very clear. I am positive that Brian Cashman was aware of the possibility of Johnny Damon rejecting his offer, it would take an absolute idiot to ignore that risk. So, when it comes to the question “Had we known then what we know now, would we have let Matsui walk away?” my answer is yes. The Yankees would have let Hideki Matsui leave regardless of whether or not Johnny Damon would be coming back. Let me explain why.
If Johnny Damon came back, then the reason behind Matsui’s departure would have been pretty obvious: we didn’t want to go over the budget. So that’s the first part of the explanation.
Second part of the explanation is not as simple, but still quite logical. In the beginning of the offseason, this is what was probably going through Brian Cashman’s mind regarding Johnny Damon: If Damon leaves, we’ll need to find a defensive replacement, a replacement in offensive production (hitting), and a replacement for Damon’s OBP. Looking at the Free Agency market at the time, and knowing that the Yankees couldn’t overpay for a big name for budgetary reasons, there was not one player that could have replaced Johnny Damon. No, not even Hideki Matsui. 
While one player couldn’t replace Johnny Damon, 2-3 players could replace him with correct in-game management. In that case (which is what happened) the Yankees needed to keep some cash free to acquire several players in the event that Damon left. They couldn’t tie their money up in a contract with Matsui. It’s not personal, dear, it’s strictly business.
Therefore, going into the offseason, the Yankees knew that, because of the strict budget, Hideki Matsui wasn’t coming back to the Bronx. I pretty much knew it then and hinted at it (in my blog posts, but especially on Twitter), and quite a few of you did, but it was too depressing to say it bluntly. It was known soon after the World Series Championship that our World Series MVP wasn’t coming back. Talk about a downer.
So, in my opinion, the right thing to do (for both the Yankees and for Hideki Matsui) was to basically let Matsui know that he was no longer needed in the Bronx. It wouldn’t have been fair to Godzilla to string him along knowing that we would not bring him back. It would have possibly pushed him to reject other offers. So, by making it clear that he would not be back in pinstripes early on in the offs
eason, we cut the cord. That’s why he quickly accepted the offer from Annaheim.
That is, indeed, what happened. Johnny Damon rejected our offer (and stupidly so, but you already know what I think from reading my post on Damon), and we replaced him with three new players: Granderson (for home runs and defense), Nick Johnson (for OBP) and Randy Winn (for defense). Damon’s base-running can be replaced in-house by Brett Gardner. Is it more complicated to have four players replacing one? Yes it is, but with intelligent management (we’re trusting you, Girardi) it can prove to be successful. By tying up our money in a Matsui contract, however, it wouldn’t have been possible to fully replace the loss of Johnny Damon.
Luckily for us, Brian Cashman had the correct foresight, and made the right moves.
It’s not personal, dear, it’s strictly business.
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2 comments

  1. PAUL

    The Yankees clearly weren’t interested at all in bringing Matsui back under any circumstances.
    It’s a cold-blooded business decision that would never have happened when Boss George still had his faculties; and for all the criticism he’s received in his career, there were times when he was right such as when he told Cashman to sign David Ortiz after the Twins let him go. Cashman balked. Mistake.
    Under no circumstances would the World Series MVP have been allowed to depart under George. The success or failure of the decision is contingent on the health of Johnson; if he’s healthy, it’s a smooth transition; it not, it was a mistake. And his health is iffy. Far more so than that of Matsui. I”d have brought Matsui back and let Damon leave.
    This was a Cashman call and it’s Cashman’s baby now, for better or worse.
    http://www.paullebowitz.com/
    http://www.princeofny.blogspot.com/

  2. Beeeebzy

    Paul: With Johnson DHing, he has a better shot at staying healthy than Matsui. Even when Matsui is considered healthy, he has at least 100 less ABs than everyone else. When Johnson is healthy, he can play a normal amount of games. You’re right, it was Cashman’s call, and I think Hal is behind him on this one. I would have made the same call. Then again I’m always a fan of cold-blooded business decisions. I don’t believe in nostalgia when it comes to making decisions.
    Matsui had a hot World Series, but if he wasn’t so hot in the WS people wouldn’t have been this upset to see him go.
    Damon is a bigger loss, in my opinion, than Matsui. Much bigger. Matsui was clutch in the World Series, Damon was clutch all season.

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