Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Damon Stayin'?

To be honest, I hated the fact that the Yankees signed Johnny Damon when it first happened. It didn't have much to do with the fact that he was 32 years old and was already declining pretty steeply as a defensive center fielder. It wasn't just that the Yanks passed on Carlos Beltran the year before, who, with respect to the five tools, was better than Damon in every way. I couldn't wrap my head around being forced to root for a play that I had spent so much time deeply despising.

There was his impossibly weak throwing arm that make me wonder if he was actually right handed but never figured it out. It was so easy to hate his faux-Jesusy look, the "Idiots" and "Cowboy Up" bullshit and the goofy speech impediment he used to talk about it all. Above all, the grand slam he hit off Javier Vasquez in the 2004 ALCS was far too painful for me to acknowledge the possibility of ever actively rooting for him at the time.

I certainly never thought I would be in favor of the Yankees offering him another contract at the end of this year. However, nearly four years later, Damon has been one of the most durable players on the Yankees and has continued to pull his weight offensively, even after being shifted to left field.

Tyler Kepner talked to Damon yesterday and Johnny had this to say about his impending free agency:
I don’t know where else I would want to go to. Obviously, that’s not the right thing to say when you’re about ready to approach free agency, but I’m very happy with playing in New York, and my family’s happy I play for New York. There’s no bigger place to go. If you play well here, you’re going to get paid. New York has the resources.
It's important to note that Scott Boras is still his agent and if Damon is anything like the other capitalist robots manufactured by the Boras Corporation, you can take that quote with a grain of salt. In fact, if Damon is anything like the 2005 version of himself, we probably shouldn't put too much stock in his stated intentions, either (h/t NoMaas):
There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they are going to come after me hard. It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need.
As with any contractual negotiation, I'd be in favor of bringing back Damon at the right price. UZR doesn't think too highly of his defense this year, but I'm not ready to relegate Damon solely to DH status. Just last year his UZR/150 was 11.6 and this year it's -9.6. Has he really fallen of that sharply? Even with his below average defensive, Johnny has been so good with the bat that he projects to be worth $14.8M over the course of the season, comfortably more than the $13M he's making.

Damon's already knocked 22 homers this year, just two off his career high. True, 15 of those have come at home and every one has been to right field, but that's not an inherently bad thing. If the Yanks sign him again next year he'll be playing half of his games in the same park.

With Hideki Matsui likely moving on after this season, the Yanks won't have someone plugging up the DH slot who can't play another position. The Yanks have stated that they want to keep that position open to be able to rest other position players, which keeps the line up flexible, but Damon is still a somewhat competent left fielder, even if he doesn't rebound next year. His bat more than makes up for his defensive short-comings.

From his comments in Kepner's story, it's safe to say that Damon will be looking for at least 2 years. Should the Yanks bring him back for 2 years/$20M? Would that be enough? Who is going to give him more than that? Given the way the New Stadium plays, it seems that he would be worth more to the Yanks than anyone else. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Cash & Co. cut ties with Damon, but if they keep him around, I wouldn't be surprised to see him lift another twenty-something homers over the short porch in right field next year, either.


  1. I'll forget his defense for a second here....Damon is a GREAT fit in the Yanks lineup. He's been incredible this year.

  2. Actually - given the way Swisher has often looked in the other corner this year, Damon may be a perfect fit on defense too. (I kid.)

    I'm all for bringing him back, though I'm uncomfortable about adding a second year. The OF market will be thin this off-season. It's all well and good to let Matsui walk with the intention of rotating guys through the DH spot, but how frequently do we honestly expect Jeter, Posada, A-Rod, etc. to DH? Damon's continued presence on the roster would be a boon to the line up.

  3. I love Damon. I love the way he plays the game. I hated him when he was with the Sox, but I really respected him and always thought he was a very underrated part of that team.

    I would definitely bring him back on a 2 year deal. The alternative is signing a Jason Bay, or Holliday...something like that. I'd much rather have Damon for two years and continue to allow Melky, Gardner, and eventually Jackson to contribute.

  4. Ok I know this is completely unrelated, and I know the Yankees don't really like him that much, but can they move Pat Venditte along a little bit? Even if he doesn't project to be a major leaguer, they are yet to find a league that can touch him.

    In his brief minor league career, he has thrown 90 innings, allowed 62 hits, walked 18, and struck out 119! He may not be major league material, but he doesn't belong in Tampa either.

  5. Venditte's success at SI last year and Charleston this year probably had a lot to do with how old he was relative to the level. Still I agree that the organization probably could have afforded to move him along to Tampa a little faster than they did.

    At this point there are less than 2 weeks left in the minor league seasons. I don't see him getting moved along before the year is up. I'm guessing he'll end up in Trenton next year.

  6. Yeah, I think it is pretty obvious at this point he isn't going anywhere. I just wish he would have had a chance at AA already.