The idea of re-acquiring Johnny Damon


Gone? Gone. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Yesterday evening Newsday’s Ken Davidoff reported that the Yankees “have been communicating with free agent Johnny Damon about a possible return to the Yankees for 2011.” A few minutes ago, Mark Feinsand said Damon “won’t rule out” a return to the Bronx but wants a full-time job somewhere. If Damon could be convinced to return to the Bronx, should the Yankees take him back?

As a fan, the answer is easy. Do I want Johnny Damon back in pinstripes? Sure I want Johnny Damon back in pinstripes. Despite a blip at the beginning of 2007 he was everything the Yankees could have hoped for when they signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract before the 2006 season. During the life of the contract he produced 12.3 WAR, 18th among MLB outfielders in that span, but it was in the last two years that he really shined. In 2008 and 2009 he produced 7.1 WAR, fifth best among LFers. And, most importantly, his career-high 24 homers in 2009 helped lead the Yankees to a world championship.

As someone interested in how the Yankees perform in 2011, the answer is a bit different. Damon played his last contract at ages 32 through 35. He’ll play the 2011 season as a 37-year-old. Plenty changes at that age, especially for ballplayers. If Damon’s skills have declined, or we can forecast his skills to decline, then it doesn’t matter what he did in his previous stint. All the Yankees care about now is whether he can help the team in 2011. I propose that he can. The only problem might be convincing him to take on a reduced rule.

It’s true that Damon’s numbers suffered in 2010. After moving from Yankee Stadium to Comerica Park he had a season that looked more like 2007 than it did 2008 or 2009. In fact, his batting lines were nearly identical: .270/.351/.396 in 605 PA in 2007 and .271/.355/.401 in 613 PA in 2010. Park adjustments helped him a bit, but his 2010 was certainly below the bar he set in his final two seasons with the Yankees. He also played just 268.1 innings in the field, likely because he developed a reputation as a poor defender in 2009. While I won’t ignore this evidence, I do think there might be factors that help explain the dip, and might also mean a bounce back for Damon in 2010.

First, take a look at this image.

This might appear a bit damning. You can clearly see that Damon didn’t hit with nearly as much power to right field. That’s his bread and butter. If he can’t do that any more, then of what help is he to the Yankees?

I don’t think this is the case. While there is a clear drop-off in distance on balls to right field, there might be good reason for that. At Yankee Stadium Damon had the porch 318 feet away. The left-center field alley might be 399 feet away, but there is plenty of space where the wall is far, far closer. Damon clearly used that to his advantage and popped plenty of balls over that wall. In Comerica the right field line is 345 feet away, and while it extends to only 370 in left-center, it continues back to 420 feet in dead center. Many of the home runs Damon hit in 2009 would have been fly outs in 2010 at Comerica. It’s my position that he adapted his style to the park.

My only supporting evidence is on the left side of the batted ball chart. You’ll notice that Damon hit quite a few balls deeper to left field in 2010 than in 2009. I can’t be completely certain, but it does appear to be the result of a slightly different approach at the plate. If he knows he can’t just pop flies over the wall, why try for that? I think that a return to Yankee Stadium could mean a return to his short porch swing, which could again lead to bigger power numbers. He won’t do what he did in 2009, but if he does what he did in, say, 2006, he’d be worth having on a one-year contract.

If the Yankees did re-sign Damon it would be as a fourth outfielder, with the possibility for more playing time should something go wrong. In other words, he’s Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada insurance. While I doubt there will be vocal opposition to the latter, the former might make some people cringe. The story during 2009 was Damon’s tenuous defense in left field, and that reputation followed him into the off-season. I’m not sure that his deficiencies are as pronounced as we had originally thought. Yes, he did look lost out there at times, but I also think that he did get better as the year went along. As regards his defensive numbers, they’re really not all that bad.

Before some changes to the UZR output, Damon had something like a -16 UZR in left — though I’m not sure of the exact number. To correct for a few deficiencies the formula was tweaked, and it gave quite a different answer this time: -4.4 UZR. DRS had him at just -1. Total Zone actually liked his defense, giving him +6. If we combine the last three years of data, and we weigh it by giving last year more precedence than the years before, I think we’d come out somewhere around league average. That’s all the Yanks really need from a fourth outfielder, especially if he can fit.

If the plan is to sign Damon and then trade Gardner for a pitcher, well, that certainly changes things. I’m not sure that Gardner is tradable, anyway, because of his wrist. But if that is the plan upon acquiring Damon, I’m not sure I like it. It puts Damon into a necessary role, and I’m not quite that high on him. As a fourth outfielder and insurance policy, I think he’s worth a slight overpay on a one-year deal. With plenty of available funds I think it’s a decent signing. If he regains some power at Yankee Stadium it will be a worthy deal. If he doesn’t, then he’s the fourth outfielder for a year and moves on. I don’t see much downside to this.

Categories : Hot Stove League


  1. Claudell says:

    I’ll always appreciate what Damon did for the Yankees while in pinstripes, but at this point I’d rather fill out the bench with a Hairston or two. I bet that the last play we saw of him as a Yankee in 2009 — pulling a muscle as he sprinted home in Game 6 of the World Series — will only become a more familiar site if he comes back in 2011.

  2. MikeD says:

    Well, if Gardner isn’t tradable because his wrist surgery was so serious that teams would hesitate, then shouldn’t the Yankees also be concerned about Gardner?

    • ROBTEN says:

      Yes and No. I think that the issue is that other teams would be trading something of value for a player which, regardless of what the Yankees or the doctors’ reports say, has an even slightly higher element of risk simply because of the effects of the injury/surgery. On the Yankees part, there is always an unknown with Gardner, but given that there are ways of addressing it without adding unnecessary risk–in other words, they don’t need to address it by taking on a player with a risk from an injury as a team acquiring Gardner would–it is a different situation.

      In other words, would you give up anything major in a trade for a young player that just had (even minor) surgery on his wrist? By the same token, would you really mind going into a season with that risk if you were fairly sure that you could address it at some point around the trade deadline if it didn’t work out?

      • gmrich says:

        Why do you dummies want to trade Gardner, you people are stupid, Gardner is a hitter who can and will hit 300 or better, steal 50 to 70 bases, and plays great defense, why are you idiots so enamored with hitter who strike out a lot, and not hit much, I want a lineup of players like Brett Gardner, players who can hit, steal bases, and play great defense, stop the being a bunch of idiots and wake up.

        • jsbrendog (returns) says:

          if you’re going to be like this then take it elsewhere. no reason for personal attacks just because you think you’re smarter than everyone

    • A.D. says:

      Issue is more likely to be the large gap in what the Yankees would want for him vs what a team is willing to pay

    • gmrich says:

      No dummy, Gardner is 25 years old, he is young and not as injury prone as that washed up has been Johnny Damon, Gardner is a better outfielder, a better hitter, can steal bases, and drive the other team crazy when on the bases, he doesn’t strike out a lot like Damon, and the other bum Granderson, tell Damon he will be on the bench as a part time player, or pinch hitter, you need to get younger, not older.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        I don’t think anyone is arguing that they want Damon over Gardner. It’s not Gardner vs. Damon… it’s Gardner vs. Damon and a quality starting pitcher. Meaning that you do it if you can more than make up for the step back you’re taking from Gardner to Damon (or whoever) with the step forward you’re taking from Sergio Mitre to the new pitcher.

        Your tone is also completely unnecessary and reflects poorly on you.

      • Pounder says:

        Gardner 25?…no,more like 27 or 28.We may have seen his ceiling,but to trade him is not a especially good idea at this time.

  3. If Damon signs with us and can give us 30 or so backup appearances in LF, I’d be down with signing him. If Gardner gets traded, then I would be comfortable with a Damon/Scott Hairston platoon in left.

    • jsbrendog (returns) says:

      so you would want a platoon left field with a guy who can’t field, is injury prone, 37 and ops+ 106 last year and a guy who ops+ 80 last year?

      no. thanks.

  4. Mark L. says:

    Feinsand threw out some tweets suggesting that Damon would rather exhaust his starting possibilities before considering being a part-timer in NY.

  5. Would prefer a right handed bat to come off the bench and play the corners. But I’d welcome Damon back. It’s just whether or not he will accept a reduced role.

  6. Avi says:

    Wow, I TOTALLY agree with this assessment of Damon. There’s no one who exploited the short fences in right field better than him. He clearly went up to the plate trying to hook everything to right in ’09 and I think moving out of YS3 definitely affected him. I have felt like this for a while and it’s great to see someone like Joe feel the same way and substantiate it with the hit charts. Great stuff!

  7. hogsmog says:

    Get Oakland on the phone, and GODZILLA BACK IN PINSTRIPES, TOO!!11

    Cash can make up for all of his boneheaded offseason moves in one fell swoop!


  8. Westcoastyankfan says:

    Boras is using the Yanks to gain some interest. I prefer taking a flier on Andruw Jones.

    • AJ says:

      Thanks for mentioning Andruw, I think he’d be an awesome bat off the bench. He slugged .558 against lefties last year in 43 games. Very impressive.

      • jsbrendog (returns) says:

        no way. the guy is the bizarro teixeira. he only hits in may. he started his epic decline and fall off offensively the same day the past 2 years. to expect something different isnt exactly wise with a guy his age and with his recent track record… unless it is for something like $1.5 mil or less

    • steve (different one) says:

      Isn’t andruw jones a boras guy?

  9. Gary says:

    I love Johnny Damon, but no no no!!! Why would the Yankees take him back when they got rid of him just a year ago??!! Damon is 37 years old, and the Yanks have to get younger, not older. With A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, Rivera and possibly Pettitte all over 35, this would not be the prime move the Yankees should be making. Now, if you want a 4th outfielder, then there are plenty of younger players the team could go after.

    Johnny Damon has done a lot for the Yankees, and he will be fondly remembered for his time in NY., but getting Damon back is the wrong move to make, especially with the Red Sox fattening up on players to make them a very dangerous team.

  10. China Joe says:

    Maybe he can backup 3rd base too…

    …haha, can you imagine Damon trying to throw the ball across the diamond? the pitcher would have to relay the ball from 3rd to 1st.

  11. nycsportzfan says:

    without a doubt.. I never wanted him to leave.. Hes a very good hitter with enough pop and great baserunning ability, and he adds a player to the lineup that dosen’t K all that much… He was the type of player the lineup missed bigtime last yr.. As good as the stats may look on guys like Granderson and Swisher, there K machines, and they tend to get K’d in big spots often… Damon has a very good approach, and u just feel good about it, when hes up to bat with guys in scoring positon.. Hes a fine player, to add back to the lineup..

  12. FIPster Doofus says:

    If what Damon told Feinsand is true and there are teams interested in offering him an everyday role, then he’s not coming back. But I would really love to see Johnny in a Yankees uniform again.

    • Clay Bellinger says:

      Yeah I would think he’d go for the starting gig somewhere, but I’d love to see him back.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      May depend on who those teams are… If the Royals and Pirates are offering the same money to start as the Yankees are to come off the bench it’s really a personal choice about location, winning, and playing time (and how he feels about the Yankees given his history with the team).

  13. James A says:

    I want more Johnny Rockets, awesome post game quotes, and second deck bombs
    It doesn’t really make sense at all, but there’s no harm of a one year deal if Johnny is on board

  14. peteypabs says:

    gimme damon for a year. sure brett has the good obp n steals bases but i think damon offensively would be an upgrade, especially in the playoffs. is it due to experience or intangibles i dont know but for 1 year i’ll take damon

  15. Kiersten says:

    I think his ego is too big to take a bench job.

  16. This goes against everything Cashman said about getting younger…

  17. Tom T says:

    Just getting in my obligatory “discuss Jeff Francis” reply in hopes that it turns into a thread.

    Lastings Milledge is an interesting option as a righty bat off the bench. he hits lefties and can field.

  18. Jerome S. says:

    Damon always seemed to be able to get to the ball, it’s his throwing that always concerned.

  19. Love him as a bench player.

    Replacing Gardner in Left? Not so much.

  20. The one downside to bringing Johnny back is we won’t get to see him hear him say “Pittsburgh is where I always wanted to play” when he signs there.

  21. jason says:

    I dont love it and i dont hate it. as long as he doesnt get more than 300 at bats what is their to lose. pinch hit, dh for posada and cover for gardner when he needs a day off and move gardner to rf when swisher needs a day off

  22. Dare to say no to JD says:

    Can we just throw out any sat that goes from -16 to -4 after a few “tweaks”? What, did you forget to carry the 2 or something?

    Sweet Jesus, don’t disappoint me on your birthday. No Johnny Damon. No. No. No.

    You need a hurt Posada or a hurt Gardner for Damon to make any sort of prolonged impact and in the event that either guy gets hurt, I’ll take just about anything else over another year of that girl-armed dooofus. No thanks.

    • A.D. says:

      Can we just throw out any sat that goes from -16 to -4 after a few “tweaks”? What, did you forget to carry the 2 or something?

      In defense of UZR and the tweaks, I believe that for the most part it didn’t change a ton, but notably Bay and Damon got better

  23. Hughesus Christo says:

    How the frick did his UZR change that drastically? Can we never talk about it again?

    Also, I don’t need to hear “BENCH GARDNER/POSADA/SWISHER/GRANDERSON, PLAY DAMON” every other day from the part-timers. Not worth it for that reason alone.

  24. Jacob says:

    I’m all about sabermetrics, but can we please stop evaluating fielders with UZR? The best tool to use is your eyes. Damon has absolutely no arm, making him useless in the field. He may have some range still in him, but his speed is declining as well. Although, I still consider him a smart base runnner who is capable of swiping when needed.

    He is 37 and not getting any younger. The drop off in home runs last year was alarming, regardless of ballpark. I don’t know how much pop he has left in his bat. Using Baseball-Ref’s converter, he would have hit .293/.381/.432 playing for the 2010 Yankees with only 9 home runs. Not horrible, but not what I want from a DH.

    The Yankees need to keep the DH spot as open as possible for 2011 with Posada, A-Rod, Jeter, Martin and possibly Montero needing to use it. Signing Damon would only clog it up even more.

    • It’s funny: I use four defensive evaluations in this post — UZR, DRS, Total Zone, and my eyes — and everyone acts as though it were just UZR.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Having a bad arm doesn’t make anyone useless in the field. In fact, throwing arm is the least important defensive tool. You could roll the ball back to the infield if you catch everything hit in your general direction for all I care.

      • A.D. says:

        hell didn’t Pujols played LF in the playoffs when he couldn’t really throw?

      • I am not the droids you're looking for says:

        I disagree. Preventing runners from going 1B to 3B is a crucial skill, and Damon doesn’t have it, even playing left field!

      • Dare to say no to JD says:

        Yeah, you need to catch the ball to hide the bad arm, unfortunately, Johnny takes bad routes and blind stabs at well hit balls and it’s extra base city. I’ve seen guys stretch routine singles into doubles off his arm. The throwing arm is only useless when you catch the ball. It’s very important when you miss it or when it’s in play.

      • Jacob says:

        Good points, maybe “useless” was a bad word. I just feel like his arm is so bad that it makes him a very below-average fielder despite his footwork. I think throwing arm is just as much of a defensive tool as range for LF & RF, with range being way more important in CF. Unfortunately, everything hit in his direction is not a line drive or fly ball and his arm will come into play eventually.

        I guess my point is that Damon is not worth a lot to the Yankees in 2011 as a backup outfielder or a DH. If they can sign him to a small 1-year deal I guess there is not much harm in it, but they shouldn’t invest too much in him.

        Interesting to check out Fangraphs’ Fans Scouting Report. Damon actually gets a zero for arm.

    • Yank the Frank says:

      I agree. As much as I loved Damon as a Yankee I think we can find a younger more versatle bench player. Damon has become a mere shadow of his former self. Happens to all of us.

  25. Kentucky Jeff says:

    Damon is a clutch hitter, something the Yanks need

  26. MattG says:

    Looking at the spray chart, it occurred to me that Damon’s 2010 would’ve played well in Fenway. Then I remember Damon did play well in Fenway–but not that well. In fact, his extra base hit totals might have declined a bit moving from KC to Fenway, which I see as an indication that his ability to tailor his swing to his park is overblown in this post.

    Maybe Damon learned to tailor his swing later in life. Maybe he really only learned to tailor it for Yankee Stadium (and it took 4 years to do so), and he merely junked that swing when he moved to Comerica. I think it’s all academic, and all in the past. Damon would make a fine 4th outfielder, but a second-division starter.

    I see him signing on as a second-division starter.

  27. A.D. says:

    I would like Damon coming back because of the insurance he would provide, which would actually be any OF, Tex, Martin, and Posada insurance or basically anyone but Cano, Jeter, A-Rod given the reshuffling that would occur if someone went down.

    That said figure the Yanks would have to sell him on getting a fair amount of at-bats from resting people while he can probably get a more legit starting job elsewhere

  28. YankFanDave says:

    Mr. Bill says “Oh Nooooooooo!” to Johnny Damon returning to the Yankees.

    YankFanDave says we need of right-handed bat for the fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter/DH role; not a another lefty who can’t play defense anymore.

    Scott Hairston, come on down.

    • Clay Bellinger says:

      Johnny Damon >>> Scott Hairston

      • YankFanDave says:

        Johnny Damon = Left-handed bat not needed
        Johnny Damon = defensive liability and limited to left-field
        Johnny Damon = playing at age 37 in 2011

        Scott Hairston = Right-handed bat needed
        Scott Hairston = can defend all three outfield positions (+ defender at corners)
        Scott Hairston = playing at age 31 in 2011

        For Yankee needs, Scott Hairston >>> Johnny Damon

        • Clay Bellinger says:

          So you’re under the assumption that Hairston hit lefties better because he’s right-handed?

          JD – .286/.354/.417
          SH – .278/.331/.498

          2010 (when Damon was 36)
          JD – .275/.365/.375
          SH – .233/.296/.359

          Although Hairston has more power against them, the argument can be made that Damon hits them just as well, and he clearly hit them better recently.

          I’m sure Damon could play RF too. Why would he or Hairston ever be needed in CF when they already have 2 guys to play it? So that point is irrelevant.

          Since JD was significantly better than Haiston at their age 36 and 30 seasons respectively, I’m not convinced that he’d be worse than him at 37 and 31.

          • YankFanDave says:

            “I’m sure Damon could play RF too.” — what are you smoking?!

            “Why would he or Hairston ever be needed in CF when they already have 2 guys to play it?” — Yanks need a 4th OFer, maximum flexibilty only helps, especially with Gardner coming off surgery and having spent time on the DL last year.

            Damon wants to start, wants to chase 3000 hits, will demand a bigger contract, and with a relatively weak OF in Det. last year beyond Ordonez and Jackson still had 3x as many ABs at DH than the OF (not a vote of confidence in his defense.) JD hasn’t even played RF for more than 1 game since 2001 where he played 5 whole games at RF.

            Good guy, great teammate and nostalgia is fine, but time to move on.

  29. James says:

    Going backwards never wins championships. Sorry but Damon is not the answer. PITCHING!!!

  30. Monteroisdinero says:

    The best thing about this thread is the lack of consideration for Austin Kearns coming back as a 4th OF’er bench guy.

  31. OldYanksFan says:

    Johnny Damon was and is a very popular Yankee.
    JD’s defense, while not Manny-like, would probably hurt, especially compared to Gritner.
    JD can probably still hit and still run, but a RH bat is preferable.
    JD is a good person, and our players would enjoy him being back.
    JD is not the best option going forward, but not a terrible one…
    primarily because…
    Johnny Damon was and is a very popular Yankee.

    • jsbrendog (returns) says:

      i e t c

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I don’t think the main reason Damon is an option is because of his history with the team, but rather because he’d be a quality bat in the 4th OF role. A guy who may no longer be a starter, but still has something left. The Yankees need bench players to fill out their roster and a borderline starter is usually the best bench player.

      Even if he never previously wore pinstripes, I’d still like to see him get a look from a team with no real in-house back-up OF options.

  32. bronxbrain says:

    The best thing about this question is that its answer isn’t all that important. I agree with someone (above) that arm strength is perhaps the least important criterion for deciding on a left fielder—especially a back-up left fielder. Damon’s power along makes him very valuable as a bench piece. But it is the burning issues not up for discussion on this thread that really matter. In the end, Damon neither hurts nor helps tremendously.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      If an OF, Tex, or Posada misses a good chunk of time having an above average bat replace them rather than a Greg Golson or Randy Winn or Colin Curtis or even RH hitting specialist who can’t hit righties (most pitchers, of course, being righties) could really help in what might be a close race with the Sox and Rays and maybe even Jays.

  33. gmrich says:

    I think the Yankees need to go younger not older, bring in another younger outfielder like Brett Gardner, someone with speed, who can pinch run, and be a defensive replacement for Swisher, or Granderson, also I think the Yankees should give Jeff Francis a look, he is Young, about 30 years old, you can get him cheap because of his injury from last year, you can give him a one year contract for 5 million dollars, add incentives to bring the contract up to 7.5 million dollars, the incentives would be inning pitched, starts, and wins, then the innings pitched and starts would kick in the 2nd seasonhe would make 7.5 million in the 2nd year, plus incentives would raise it to 10 million dollars, then the last spot in the rotation would go to Ivan Nova, but if Andy Pettite comesback, then don’t sign Jeff Francis, let Ivan Nova be the 5th starter, that is how I would do things.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      What free agent OF are the Yankees going to bring in as a 4th OF who is like Brett Gardner? That would be great, but it’s completely impractical. No is saying Damon is amazing, but as a bench player he’s theoretically a pretty strong option.

      And signing Damon (or whatever 4th OF they end up signing) does not preclude the Yankees from signing a starting pitcher. If someone they like is available at a price they like they almost definitely will look to improve their rotation.

    • steve (different one) says:

      Why would Granderson need a defensive replacement?

  34. Harris K. says:

    How about a Derek Jeter comparison?

    Jeter 2010: .270/10/67/111/18 sb/.340 obp/.710 ops

    Damon 2010: .271/8/51/81/11/.355 obp/.756 ops

    Playing for the Yankees would have easily made up for the difference in HR, RBI, and maybe runs and SB.

  35. Yogi-man says:

    Cashman continues to dredge up the dead. Let it go and move on for real.
    Signing Damon may have been a Splash in December ’05 but this December it reeks of desperation.
    Cashman shot his wad waiting and losing out on Lee. Epstein, has shrewdly outmaneuvered him and pre-positioned his Sox ahead on paper and likely on the field.
    With all his years at GM, Cashman still doesn’t grasp it. Last Off-Season was an atrocity. Hard to believe but he’s outdone even that pitiful performance so far this year.
    Next year he’ll try JavyV3..????

  36. JohnnyC says:

    Damon has also often stated that he’s aiming to get to 3,000 hits before his career ends. Playing part-time at age 37 ain’t gonna get him there.

  37. A Damon return would purely be one that would see limited at bats. Only if Cash would be willing to pay Damon enough to forgo more
    play elsewhere will here return to pinstripes. Yes, Damon loves NY
    but if Tampa, which is closer to where he resides, offers him a bit
    more of a regular role, he’ll grab it for sure.
    While I’m here, let me just say, that I’m literally shocked that Cashman put all his eggs in one basket this offseason. Next time a
    similiar situation arises & a similiar mega contract is offered, Cashman must condition the offer as being on the table for 48 or 72
    hours. Talk Lee all you want but I would have loved having Crawford & then being able to trade for a pitcher that would not have added to
    the lengthy, costly & aging liability ledger.
    Cashman prefers to be a GM as opposed to a Director of Spending, so
    be it. Have a Merry Christmas Brian & then please roll up your sleeves
    & get back to work. Happy Holidays to all!

  38. Greg Davenport says:




  39. Richard says:

    Do not trade Gardner…. He is your leadoff, base stealer. Get some pitching never mind a 4th outfielder. Those guys they can get for a song. No Manny, or Damon.

  40. solamon says:

    sign damon he can hit and posada will probably get hurt and he will need a lot of rest

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