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Yanks, Johnson discuss return as DH

Yanks, Johnson discuss return as DH

NEW YORK -- The Yankees would like to add one more big bat to their lineup before Spring Training, and while discussions are stalled with Johnny Damon, they might just look to an old friend to fill that void.

The New York Post reported on Thursday that the Yankees have reached out to Nick Johnson to help replace Hideki Matsui, who signed one-year deal reportedly worth $6.5 million with the Angels on Wednesday.

But any discussion of a deal would seem to be premature. The Yankees' first choice is still to re-sign Damon and install him as a left fielder and designated hitter, if they can make the financial terms work.

General manager Brian Cashman acknowledged interest in retaining Damon, but did not sound like he was willing to budge soon on financial terms. Damon is reportedly looking to sign a deal no shorter than three years at an annual salary of at least the $13 million he earned last season.

"Damon is the perfect two-hole hitter for this place, but it doesn't mean he's the only guy who can do that," Cashman said. "But he is perfectly set up to hit behind [Derek] Jeter and in front of those guys in the three and four hole. That's got a lot of value, there's no doubt about it. If I can't do it with him, is there somebody else I could do it with?"

On the topic of bringing Damon back, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said: "I can't really speak to the chances. We all love Johnny Damon and he was a big part of the reason we won that championship. I think right now there's just a difference of opinion to what the pay is, quite frankly."

Cashman said that he does not necessarily need flexibility out of a DH candidate, which is where a player like Johnson could come in.

"It's nice to be able to rotate guys and have that spot to rest them and give them blows," Cashman said. "At the same time, it doesn't mean that you don't be open-minded to a bat that fits in that part of the lineup.

"Right now, if the season started today, the logical DH that we have internally ... would be Juan Miranda or having one of those outfielders take the DH spot, Melky [Cabrera], [Brett] Gardner or Swish [Nick Swisher]."

Johnson, 31, made his big league debut with the Yankees in 2001 and played parts of three seasons in New York before being traded to the Montreal Expos as part of a package for pitcher Javier Vazquez.

Johnson split last season with the Nationals and Marlins, batting a combined .291 with eight homers and 62 RBIs in 133 games. Johnson's agent, Rex Gary, discussed his talks with the Yankees in an interview with the Post.

"We have had dialogue, things are moving forward," Gary said. "Something could happen to speed things up, but it's hard to predict."

Any deal for the injury-prone Johnson would probably be incentive-based, as he's spent significant time on the disabled list in the past years.

After missing all of the 2000 season with a right hand injury, he was sidelined in '03 with a stress fracture in his right hand, and in '04 with a fractured right cheekbone and lumbar strain.

Johnson suffered a fractured right femur in 2006 and was out for the entire '07 season. A right wrist injury in '08 limited him to 38 games. The Mariners are also believed to be interested in Johnson as a first baseman.

"There's some guys that don't fit at all, we don't like them," Cashman said. "Some guys we like because of the versatility. Other guys might be perfect for a specific role in the lineup that allows everyone else proper placement. Right now, as I see our lineup, it's not as smooth running."

Manager Joe Girardi said that there is some benefit to a "revolving-door" DH situation, but the club made out well with Matsui last season logging the majority of those at-bats. Girardi said that it would be nice to have Jorge Posada as a DH more often in 2010.

"I like the idea of having an almost full-time DH, if that makes sense," Girardi said. "A situation where you can DH Alex [Rodriguez] a day and Jeet and Tex [Mark Teixeira], where it's kind of like a day off for them. I considered Matty our full-time DH last year, but he didn't have 600 at-bats. That allowed us to rest our guys but keep their bats in the lineup."

Girardi said that he would not be shocked if Damon's situation did not find a quick resolution.

"It's way too early, I think," Girardi said. "The one thing that free agents can do is take their time, and make sure they hear everything to decide what's best for them and their family. There's no rush."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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