Damon signs deal with rival Yankees

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Associated Press

NEW YORK— The New York Yankees plugged their hole in center field by bringing Johnny Damon down from Boston, and several other established players found new teams on a busy night in baseball.

The Chicago Cubs added Jacque Jones to their outfield Tuesday, Texas agreed to acquire pitcher Adam Eaton in a trade with San Diego, and the Los Angeles Dodgers made Kenny Lofton their latest addition. The Yankees also reached a preliminary agreement with Octavio Dotel, a former closer coming off major elbow surgery.

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Details of New York’s preliminary $52 million, four-year agreement with Damon were still being negotiated and the speedy leadoff hitter must pass a physical, a baseball official said on condition of anonymity because negotiations were not yet final. A two-time All-Star, Damon could take his physical Thursday, allowing the deal to be completed this week.

Moving from Fenway Park to Yankee Stadium will mean a change of style and scenery for Damon, a fan favorite in Boston for his scrappy play and scruffy look. New York owner George Steinbrenner bans beards and long hair.

‘‘Sad to say bye to some of the greatest fans in the world. Unfortunately they had to see this day, but it’s time for me to move forward,’’ Damon told WBZ television in Boston.

Jones rejected Minnesota’s salary arbitration offer Monday in favor of a $16 million, three-year contract with the Cubs. He hit .249 last season with 23 homers and 73 RBIs, the second straight year his average declined following a pair of .300 seasons. He set career highs in 2002 with 27 homers and 85 RBIs.

‘‘I haven’t felt good about my batting average,’’ Jones said. ‘‘I’m sick about it. I can’t stand it. I know I’m much better than a .250 hitter.’’

While the Cubs were adding Jones, the crosstown White Sox finalized their trade to acquire right-hander Javier Vazquez and $4 million from Arizona for pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino, and minor league outfielder Chris Young.

In addition to Jones and Lofton, two other free agents finalized contracts: right-hander Rudy Seanez with Boston ($2.1 million) and left-hander Chris Hammond with Cincinnati ($800,000).

Baltimore also reached an agreement with outfielder-first baseman Jeff Conine on a $1.7 million, one-year deal that includes a club option for 2007.

Last week, the Rangers dealt All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Washington for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge, and pitcher Armando Galarraga. On Tuesday, they agreed to send Sledge, pitcher Chris Young and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego for Eaton and reliever Akinori Otsuka.

The deal was pending physicals, according to three baseball officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the trade had not been finalized.

Eaton won 11 games in each of the last two seasons, but went on the disabled list twice this year because of a strained middle finger that limited him to 128 2-3 innings. He was 11-5 with a 4.27 ERA, but didn’t pitch in the postseason for the NL West champion Padres.

‘‘I’m healthy as can be,’’ Eaton said. ‘‘The finger is a non-issue.’’

New Texas general manager Jon Daniels is seeking more pitching. Free-agent Kevin Millwood, who led the AL with a 2.86 ERA for Cleveland, met Tuesday with Rangers officials along with his agent, Scott Boras.

The Yankees gave a $2 million deal to Dotel, who had reconstructive elbow surgery June 6 to repair a torn ligament. He joins several newcomers in the bullpen — right-hander Kyle Farnsworth and left-handers Ron Villone and Mike Myers — and hopes to pitch by midseason.

The 38-year-old Lofton finalized a $3.85 million, one-year deal with the Dodgers, taking over the center-field job that opened last week when Milton Bradley was sent to Oakland.

‘‘I’ve always been a guy who can impact the team in so many aspects: defensively, offensively, on the base paths, in the dugout. As long as I’m out there I feel good about it,’’ Lofton said.

Meanwhile, 50 players became free agents when their teams failed to offer contracts by the midnight EST deadline.

Milwaukee didn’t offer a contract to former All-Star closer Dan Kolb, reacquired from Atlanta this month. Boston, which had the worst bullpen ERA in the AL, did not offer contracts to reliever Chad Bradford and starting pitcher Wade Miller.

Among those who agreed to contracts ahead of the deadline were Cincinnati catcher Jason LaRue ($9.1 million for two years), Tampa Bay catcher Toby Hall ($2.25 million), St. Louis outfielder Larry Bigbie ($900,000), Milwaukee third baseman Russell Branyan ($800,000), Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi ($725,000), Toronto infielder John McDonald ($500,000) and Houston backup catcher Raul Chavez ($400,000).

Three other former All-Stars were not offered contracts: reliever Lance Carter (Tampa Bay), first baseman-designated hitter Ken Harvey (Kansas City) and second baseman Junior Spivey (Washington).

Other notable players who were let go included reliever Joe Borowski (Tampa Bay), pitcher Dewon Brazelton (San Diego), outfielder Eric Byrnes (Baltimore), pitcher Josh Fogg (Pittsburgh), pitcher Ryan Franklin (Seattle), catcher Jason Phillips (Dodgers) and catcher Miguel Olivo (San Diego).


AP Sports Writers Nancy Armour in Chicago, Bob Baum in Phoenix, Ronald Blum in New York, Stephen Hawkins in Dallas, Ken Peters in Los Angeles, Howard Ulman in Boston and Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.