Damon, Yankees reach preliminary agreement on $52 million, four-year contract

Updated: December 21, 2005, 11:57 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- George Steinbrenner quickly had a chat with his empire's newest star.

A day after leaving the Boston Red Sox to accept a $52 million, four-year contract with the New York Yankees, center fielder Johnny Damon had a conversation with the Boss, who hopes his latest acquisition will help the Yankees win the World Series for the first time since 2000.

"Steinbrenner spoke to Johnny Damon today for about 15 minutes and he indicated it was a good conversation," Steinbrenner spokesman Howard Rubenstein said.

The Boss didn't want to say anything else publicly about the bearded, shaggy-haired leadoff hitter, who will top a batting order that includes Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada.

Damon, however, had a few words for all the disappointed folks back in New England.

"I know what's going on in Boston. I know fans are upset and I'm sorry," Damon said in an interview with WBZ television in Boston from his Florida home.

He also recalled Game 7 of the 2004 AL championship series, when he hit two key homers -- including a grand slam -- to lead the Red Sox past New York at Yankee Stadium.

"I know I'll always be remembered for Game 7 to help get us to the World Series and I know I'm also going to be remembered for jumping sides," Damon said.

Giambi helped recruit the two-time All-Star to the Yankees.

"Johnny and I spoke a few times over the last week and I strongly encouraged him to sign with the Yankees," Giambi said through his agent, Arn Tellem. "It is good to know that our lineup next year will include a natural leadoff hitter whose presence allows Jeter and A-Rod to return to their preferred places in the batting order. Johnny is a good friend and a great guy to have in the clubhouse. I am very excited about having him as a teammate again."

Damon is expected to have his physical on Thursday and the deal is likely to be finalized on Friday, when a news conference would be held at Yankee Stadium.

Also Wednesday, New York reached a preliminary agreement with longtime center fielder Bernie Williams on a $1.5 million, one-year contract, a deal that allows the 37-year-old to earn an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses. Williams, like Damon, is represented by Scott Boras.

Williams will have a reduced role as a part-time outfielder and designated hitter. The moves coupled with reliever Octavio Dotel's $2 million agreement this week increased New York's payroll to about $189 million, with pitchers Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small still unsigned and eligible for salary arbitration. Still, the Yankees are likely to start the season with a 25-man payroll below their final 2005 level, about $205 million.

Brandon Steiner, whose company partners with the Yankees in a joint venture to sell memorabilia, predicted the outgoing Damon would become a fan favorite in the Bronx.

"Johnny Damon was big in Boston but he will become larger than life in New York," Steiner said.

At least one company was seeking to become part of a promotion with Damon, who must shave his beard and trim his locks to comport with Steinbrenner's hair rules. Phillips Norelco said it would make a $15,000 donation to a charity chosen by Damon if he shaves with their electric razor.

Boras said Damon made his decision Tuesday. Boston's offer was said to be $40 million over four years, and Damon told WBZ that another team offered him a six-year deal worth $25 million more than the Yankees' deal. But he didn't disclose which club.

"It wasn't just economics that went into this decision. It was really about winning," Boras said. "With his skills and the skills of the Yankees, it was really a good fit."

The 32-year-old Damon has 1,789 career hits in 11 major league seasons and replaces Williams, whose defense and production declined in recent years. Boras said Damon also thought about career statistics in making his pick.

"He had a goal in this process, where he wanted to get to 3,000 hits," Boras said. "He'll be young enough."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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