Much to the chagrin of the woman sitting in front of me at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, I am no fan of Johnny Damon. As the Yanks’ lead-off hitter – and someone tell me why he still leads off – strolled to the plate, my dad and I noted Damon’s decline and his slow bat speed.
While the lady in front of me with her Number 18 t-shirt on kept glaring back at me and loudly commented, “I guess Damon can still play” while shooting me a dirty look a few innings later when he homered, the fact is that Johnny Damon is an albatross around the Yankees’ necked.
In December of 2005, the Yanks signed Damon to a four-year, $52-million deal. While the Red Sox declined to match that deal, the first season of the contract made the Yanks looked great. For $13 million, the Yanks got a centerfielder with a bad arm but good range who could hit for power and average and steal bases.
This year, it all came crashing down. Damon, hot of late, is hitting just .251 but with a respectable .353 OBP. However, he’s slugging just .356, and he has followed up his 2006 extra-base hit total of 64 with just 23 this season. In the field, he’s a disaster. His arm is worse than ever, and he has officially lost the starting centerfield job to Melky Cabrera, a far superior defender.
Now, the Yanks are facing a choice. They have a lot of players playing good baseball. Shelley Duncan is swinging a hot bat; Andy Phillips has been great of late; and Melky Cabrera has emerged as the heart and soul of the young players on the team. With Jason Giambi due for a return, someone’s got to go from the starting lineup.
As Joe Torre, the Yankees manager who seems to have been the victim of a vote of no-confidence from the Front Office, tends to favor his Experienced Veterans, I fear that Melky, much to the detriment of the offense and defense, will be the odd man out. That is, unless the Yanks bench Johnny Damon.
Now, recently a rumor emerged that Damon was on the trading block. As much as the Proctor trade was designed to protect the Yanks from Torre while improving the team, a Damon trade could do the same thing. And obviously, Johnny Damon, who didn’t play yesterday much to the surprise of himself, isn’t too happy about that. He says he wants to play and win in New York. He says he wasn’t sure why he was the odd man out yesterday.
But if I’m the Yankees and some team wants Johnny Damon, I trade him in a heartbeat. There’s no doubt that, with $26 million left on his contract, he’ll clear waivers. With Giambi in the DH slot and Melky firmly entrenched in center, Damon’s spot on this team would be a pinch runner, and $13 million for a pinch runner is a hefty sum.
So two days ago, I (probably misguidedly) advocated trading current centerfielder. Today, I’m advocating for trading the former centerfielder. If the deal arrives, do it.