This is the fifth (and last) in an occasional series of Sneak Peeks from Feeding the Monster. The section below takes place in December 2005, after Theo Epstein had quit as general manager of the Red Sox (and before he returned to the team this past January) and the Sox were negotiating with Johnny Damon’s agent, Scott Boras. You can read the rest of the book starting tomorrow, when it’ll be available in bookstores everywhere.
The situation remained stalled through much of December. By December 20, John Henry and Boras were in direct communication. Now Boras said Damon had a six-year deal ‘on the table,’ but was willing to stay with the Red Sox if they offered him five years because he loved the city and the team so much. Then, later that evening, Boras told Henry and [Red Sox assistant GM] Jed Hoyer that there was another ‘hot’ deal on the table, this one for $13 million a year for five years, totaling $65 million. The Sox had already agreed among themselves that they’d be willing to go up to at least $11 million a year for four years, but even that figure totaled some $21 million less than what Boras told the team Damon was being offered. We can’t, Henry told Boras, go that high.
That night, word began to trickle out that Damon was signing with the Yankees. This had been a scenario the Red Sox had been prepared forâ€šÃ„Ã®back in September, Henry, Epstein, and assistant general manager Josh Byrnes had discussed how Damon could very well end up in the Bronx because of New York’s desperate need for a reliable center fielder. The Yankees, it seemed, where the mystery team who had offered the five-year, $65 million contract. But when the details of the deal finally emerged, the Red Sox were shocked to learn that Damon had signed only a four-year deal worth $13 million a year, for a total of $52 million. Damon later said he would have stayed in Boston for $11.5 million a year, just $500,000 less annually than the Red Sox had already agreed they were willing to pay him.
It turns out that Johnny Damon never had a firm six-year offer from any team, as Scott Boras had repeatedly told the Red Sox. A high-ranking official in Major League Baseball’s central office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that as far as officials who’d been in contact with every team in baseball could tell, Damon had never even received a solid five-year offer. To Boras, any effort to weaken the bonds of loyalty a player felt to his old team would mean the possibility of more lucrative contracts. Players had traditionally been hesitant to cross the Rubicon from Boston to New York; even Damon had said just months earlier that there was ‘no way’ he could play for the Yankees even thought he knew they were ‘going to come after [him] hard.’ If Boras could orchestrate it so that Johnny Damon, one of the most popular players on one of the most popular Red Sox teams in history, switched sides, what other players might be willing to do so in the future? And how much higher might player salaries go if agents could regularly get the Yankees to bid for Red Sox free agents, and vice versa?