Scouting The Free Agent Market: Johnny Damon

Fan Confidence Poll: January 16th, 2012
The Pineda/Montero/Kuroda Chat
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Everything’s changed in the span of 72 hours. The Yankees went from being light on pitching and heavy on offense to having a surplus of starters and a DH vacancy following their Friday night bonanza. We know they have some interest in Carlos Pena, but he might be too expensive and also too inflexible for the current roster. A cheaper and possibly better fitting solution might be former Yankee Johnny Damon, who the team has already contacted.

Reunions almost never work out, especially when you’re talking about a player closer to his 40th birthday than his 35th. The Yankees wouldn’t be asking Damon to ignite their offense like they did during their World Series run three years ago, they’d be asking him to setting to a Tim Raines/Darryl Strawberry-esque complementary role. Let’s see what he’s bringing to the table these days…

The Pros

  • After a down power year with the Tigers in 2010 (just eight homers and a .130 ISO), Johnny clubbed 16 dingers with a .156 ISO last season. He was one two-bagger shy of the 30-double plateau for the third straight year and the 13th time in 15 years.
  • Although he always seemed to be battling nagging injuries during his first stint in pinstripes, Damon has played in at least 140 games every year since his rookie campaign in 1995. Durability is an underrated skill.
  • Johnny actually had a reverse split last year (.313 wOBA vs. RHP and .355 vs. LHP), but he’s shown no split over the last three years (.345 vs. .344) and a very small one during his career (.353 vs. .341).
  • Damon stole 19 bases under the run happy Joe Maddon in 2011, his most since swiping 29 in 2008 and his 16th straight year with double-digit steals. He’s also quite good at putting the ball in play, striking out in just 14.2% of his plate appearances last year and just 11.5% of the time in his career.
  • The importance is overstated, but there is some value in Damon being familiar with New York, the Yankees, and being in a pennant race. I hear he also gives some sweet veteran presents.

The Cons

  • At 38 years old, Damon is already in the danger zone when it comes to total collapse in performance. His wRC+ has gone from 128 in 2008 to 124 in 2009 to 109 in each of the last two seasons. Further decline is more likely than a rebound, which would put him at or below the league average offensively.
  • After walking in 10.7% of his plate appearances from 2006-2010, Damon’s walk rate dipped to a below league average 7.9% in 2011. His 27.8% swing rate on pitches out of the zone was his highest in five years and the third straight year it’s increased. Despite the solid strikeout rate, his 8.1% swing-and-miss rate was his worst since the data started being recorded in 2002.
  • Playing the field regularly is not an option anymore. Johnny has played just 352.1 innings in the outfield over the last two years, with 82.9% of his plate appearances coming as the DH. He can probably spot start in left once in while, but anything more is asking for trouble.

True Yankee™ status is a powerful thing, and it’s been known to cloud judgment from time to time. Damon isn’t the guy he was in 2009 (.376 wOBA with 24 homers) and he’s not some kind of clutch god (.225 AVG and .287 wOBA with runners in scoring position last two years), and returning to the Yankees won’t magically revitalize him. Sure, Yankee Stadium will probably allow him to pop a few more homers, but at his age he’s more likely to keep slipping. Then again, stranger things have happened.

If the Yankees want to go real cheap on their DH spot next year, Damon’s probably the best they’ll be able to do on the free agent market. He’s a useful piece but no longer a difference maker capable of wreaking havoc atop the order, but he’ll stay in the lineup and put together tough at-bats, maybe even hitting the ball out of the park on occasion. An Andruw Jones-esque contract is probably in order, meaning just $2M with some incentives. Anything more than would be pushing it, especially since no other club is in a rush to sign him.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 16th, 2012
The Pineda/Montero/Kuroda Chat
  • P

    I love that our pressing offseason question is who is going to be our left-handed dh…

    • Paul

      Let’s give Nunez 400 abats. This guy can hit. No need for Damon, Matsui or Pena.

  • A.D.

    What are the real options? Damon, Pena, Chavez?

    • SteveD

      Chavez gives the yanks a decent glove at 3rd to fill in for A Rod.

    • Dave203

      I think Chavez is separate. I think they would be going for Chavez PLUS a DH/backup. I like the combination of Chavez/Pena. Cover the corners and Pena is a good backup for Tex and counter for Jones.

      As long as their prices are reasonable, you can never have too much quality on your bench.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    The only issue I’d have with Damon is the roster inflexibility having he AND Andruw Jones would create. Damon is a worse defender than Jones (always been), so he’s strictly a DH. A corner infielder would give you more “in-a-pinch” defensive value. I’d opt for Eric Chavez, but I fear his impending 2 month DL stint.

    A 6-7-8 hitter with pop is what we should be looking for, so Damon’s diminishing speed isn’t a big issue in my eyes.

    • Steve (different one)

      Isn’t there room for both? There is an extra roster spot open for the starting DH.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      I’m confused, and excuse me if I’m reading this wrong, but are you saying Jones is a bad defender?

      • Klemy

        Meh, I didn’t get that from what he said.

  • theyankeewarrior

    I assume Damon would cost about 4M

    What would Pena cost? 8-10M?

    If it’s a matter of a few $M bucks, I would think that Pena actually offers more roster flexibility because he can actually play a solid 1B. Damon cant play a solid anything.

    Pena + Jones = Beastmode DH

    • gageagainstthemachine

      However, I think he offers some important things:
      1) Familiarity with New York and everything that goes with it. But especially, the team and most of its current members.
      2) I’m assuming he doesn’t strike out as much as Pena and I recall he has a pretty good eye for the ball and walks well (I don’t have any stats to confirm that)
      3) I’m assuming (considering the number of times its possible) that he could play a ‘passable’ first base. We don’t want him in the outfield due to his old legs and weak arm. Sitting in at first saves us the heartache from both of those. Jones gets his due time in the OF and they get their rest. Swisher is always available for first when Jones is in OF, Tex gets a rest, and Damon is either on the bench for one of the other players or regular DHing.
      4)He’s cheaper. Let’s face it, I don’t think we need to plunk millions and millions down on a DH when we know it’s going to be a largely rotating position for aging vets.

      Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think we have to guarantee another monster bat in the line-up. I think roster flexibility is the way to go. I think a bench of Nunez, Damon (DH righties), Jones (DH lefties), and possibly Chavez (is there room?) would do the job just fine.

      Frankly, I don’t think the Yankees have to go all out on the DH position. If they were younger as a team, sure. But they are not, and that’s going to have to be very well managed by Girardi and his magical Binder.

      I’m fine with Damon and saving millions. There’s a few positions that have to be looked at as brief and affordable to give our youth and free agency in the future the flexibility to work. And this all has to be taken into account with having the resources both this year and for the future squared away. If it were me, go with Damon.

      To paraphrase a common statement on this blog: “My free agency proposal sucks.”

      • JAG

        I have no issue with the fact that Damon is more familiar with New York (because he is). Pena does walk an awful lot, though. He’s a lot like Swisher in that his OBP is dragged down by a low BA.

        Additionally, if we’re talking about Damon as a passable 1B, then we’re really just highlighting the fact that Pena is a superior player. Passable 1B < Above average 1B. Pena, from my recollection, is an inferior fielder to Teixeira or Pujols, but not by much.

        Money is the chief difference between the two, in my eyes. Damon is an OF like Posada was a C last year.

    • Mike HC

      I don’t think there is any way we are giving Pena 8-10 million. At best he could get there if it was incentive laden. But I guess you never know.

  • craig

    If the Mets had any interest in moving David Wright, could/would that make any sense? It’s a lot more $, but a lot more player.

    • ThatstheMelkyMesaWaysa

      Anyone to replace A-Rod when his contract ends.

      • Craig Maduro

        Hell, Wright is going to be 35-36 by the time A-Rod’s contract runs out so I don’t think he’ll be replacing anybody in that sense. I love this idea in theory though. Let A-Rod spend most of his time at DH and hopefully extend the life of his production another year or two. I also think a change of scenery would help Wright get back to his pre-Citi Field monster ways.

  • Virgil Earp

    I say get him. We haven’t won a WS since we got rid of Damon and Matsui. At least getting one of them back would give us a good LH bat off the bench and a clutch hitter in the playoffs which we lacked last season. Jorgie was our best hitter in the clutch in the ALDS and now he’s gone so we need a veteran like Damon to fill that void.

    • Klemy

      I cannot detect how serious this post is.

    • Rainbow Connection


  • BrooklynPaulie

    Sooooooooooo….which “sweet veteran” does he give the presents to???

  • Nick

    I think the O’s will give him more

    • gageagainstthemachine

      I think at 38 he would choose the Yankees over the Orioles in a heartbeat. For several reasons, but the most important: an annual opportunity to have a shot at the WS. O’s can’t offer that. Then again, they may offer more playing time to pad his stats and claim for the HoF. So, maybe you’re absolutely correct.

      • Yankee Fan 1

        Absolutely think Damon would go for the money and stat padding over the chance for another ring.

        • Preston

          Agreed, Johnny has two rings. He’s playing for one reason, to get 3,000 hits. He’ll need to play two more full seasons to get there. He’ll only get half a season of AB’s with the Yankees.

          • gageagainstthemachine

            Indeed, why I added that last part before hitting submit :)
            I still think it’s possible he could choose the Yankees. But I can definitely see the personal accomplishment being Numero Uno for him at this point.

  • ThatstheMelkyMesaWaysa

    I would love this just because I am attached to the 09 team.

  • Mike HC

    Getting Damon back would definitely be fun. I would prefer Pena from a baseball standpoint though. And would also like to see Chavez back along with Damon/Pena.

  • Rob LaDuca

    I think it’s ‘veteran presence’ not ‘veteran presents’. ;-)

    • Mike HC

      I don’t know about that. I have heard that veterans do give some pretty awesome gifts out.

    • karcotte

      You are ignoring the meme.

  • Monterowasdinero

    Pena is 5 years younger/has hit a ton of HR’s the last 5 years and has a stellar glove. Against righties, I don’t see a big dropoff with him at first should Tex get injured or need a day.

    Nice uppercut/dropping the back hip-type swing perfect for YS.

    He’s a solid clubhouse/veteran like Damon too.

  • http://- JFish

    I think Damon would sign somewhere with guaranteed playing time to have a shot at 3000 hits. I actually think he would pick the O’s over the Yanks to have a shot at the magical 3000 hit plateau!

  • vin

    I’d be OK with simply signing Chavez, and rolling into next season with a DH platoon of Jones/Chavez 4 times a week and half-days off to the older regulars the rest of the time. If that’s the case, then a guy like Dickerson can find his way onto the roster. I know he’s lefthanded, but I like his versatility.

  • Joltin Joe

    I think from a nostalgic point of view, everyone would love Damon back, but would he really be the best option? It all depends on how much money the Yankees have (and we saw how quickly that changed with Kuroda). Personally, I want them to get him becuase he’ll have his moments and even if he struggles out of the gate, the leftover love from 2009 will assure his lineup spot. But if they have the chance to get Pena, no question they should ink him instead.

  • Adam

    Is there any real risk in having Nunez DH against righties (Andruw against lefties), bat at the bottom of the order (especially useful with his speed) and then cycle into the infield on some days against righties to give Arod and Jeter some consistent days off from the field? Perhaps in this scenario a Damon signing makes sense as well, to have a left handed bat off the bench who can also fill in as the DH from time-to-time. It’s not as if Damon is getting a starting spot anywhere…

    • Craig Maduro

      Yea, I would say there is significant risk. Not to bash Nunez for the sake of it, but having him handle at-bats as a DH should be 100% out of the question.

  • Granderslam

    Any trade candidates to fill the DH role?

  • Kosmo

    The one glaring stat that stands out about Pena is his lack of clutch hitting with 2 outs,RISP is a career .208 hitter. He hits RHP career at a .252 clip which is OK and he takes his walks.
    If strictly in a platoon with Jones then Pena over Damon. But Damon at his best is a far better clutch player than Pena.

    • Mike Axisa

      Damon is not at his best though. As I said in the post, he’s been pretty awful with RISP the last two years.

      • Kosmo

        Exactly ! His best is behind him.

  • Guest

    Some stuff was going around about Billy Butler for Hughes and some other pieces, but probably no.

    • http://- JFish

      Think the Royals would bite on Hughes and Betances for Butler? I know I’d do that trade now that we’ve got Pineda.

      • Granderslam

        I would love Butler, but those sources don’t seem too credible unfortunately.

        • http://- JFish

          Agreed. We can dream though. Butler would be a great fit. Maybe we could even force the Royals to take A.J. ha!

          • Kosmo

            KC has at AAA 26 yr old Clint Robinson a power hitting 1B they´re trying to unload .

          • Kosmo

            I´d do an AJ and DJ Mitchell trade for Clint Robinson a promising LH power hitting 1B. He could easily DH . Yanks eat a portion of Burnetts contract.

            • Granderslam

              Any link to the info about the Royals trying to trade him?

              • Kosmo

                He was linked to a 3-way deal involving Phelps to KC and Gio Gonzalez to NY and Gardner to Oakland among other pieces that was tabled at the winter meetings. Robinson has nothing more to prove at AAA and should be traded in the near future for pitching.

  • SteveB

    I wonder whether the team would consider a bad contract for bad contract trade like AJ Burnett for Alfonso Soriano. 3 years of Soriano would be better than 2 years of Burnett.

    • Mike Axisa

      No, they wouldn’t. If the Yankees want a sub-.300 OBP RHB bat, they can just use Jorge Vazquez.

      • Kosmo

        Mike, if something could be worked out with contracts what do you think of this trade possibility, 2 yrs of Burnett for 1 yr of Carlos Lee . He might be a good DH option and plays an OK LF at least to the balls he can get to. Burnett can´t be any worse than 2 or 3 of Houston´s penciled in starters and he could eat innings.

    • Craig Maduro

      My friend was trying to sell me on Soriano too. The Yanks should treat him like the plague. He is one of the last players I want in Yankees pinstripes.

  • Monterowasdinero

    Damon hit 24 HR in YS in 09 at 35/36. Pena could easily surpass that.

    I’m not so sold on Chavez. The more Nunez plays, the better he will be. He is 24, healthy, dirt cheap and can wreak havoc on the basepaths.

    Pena and Nunez are fine for infield depth for me.

    • Klemy

      Easily? Remember, we’re probably talking a platoon DH situation.

      • Monterowasdinero

        True-Damon was an everyday player. He’ll hit fewer than Pena as a DH and at his age. It is a tough call but Damon serves no purpose at all as a defender as well. Pena has a superb glove.

  • mike

    Plus for Damon – he can hit lefties, where Pena is pathetic – when a tough Lefty is pitching and Jones is in LF for Gardner, the Yanks will need a DH who can hit lefties better than Nunez.

    I think overall Damon is a better option, especially with Swish able to play 1B and Jones RF if required

    • Monterowasdinero

      Nunez on the rise. Damon on the downslope. I like Pena for the new blood, younger age, glove and power.

    • Craig Maduro

      In that case you just play Gardner in LF and bat him in the 9-hole. Sure he’ll struggle at the dish, but you still have his D to somewhat make up for it. I think it’s a better option than bringing Damon on board in place of Pena.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    As much as I’d love Pena parking it over the right field porch when he’s not striking out, my gut feeling that Damon can offensively still be close to the Johnny Damon we know. For one year, that’d be fine with me. If we’re talking not spending much on a DH, he’d be a damn fine option for me.

    • Dave B

      I agree with this, and even though Matsui’s numbers are worse than Damon’s apparently, I wouldn’t mind Godzilla in the lineup in this role either. Not sure what he has left in the tank, but man would I love to see Godzilla in pinstripes for one more year.

      • Rainbow Connection

        Please stop.

      • JMK

        You should just watch Yankee Classics all day.

      • Craig Maduro

        What about Paul O’Neill? He took some cuts in the cage before a game once and Michael Kay was talking about how his swing still looked good. Just imagine how bezerk the stadium would go when #21 stepped into the on-deck circle!!!

        • dalelama

          You think Joe Pepitone could pass the drug test? ROFL

  • vin

    Luke Scott might have been interesting if he didn’t already sign with Tampa.

  • MattG

    Wait just a minute. Jones should not be thought of as a DH platoon partner. Jones is here to play the outfield when lefties start, not DH. If Jones is DHing, then Garnder and Granderson both play.

    This is not the plan. Granderson does hit lefties now, still I would give him at least 10 planned days off vs Lester, Price, Matusz, Romero, etc. Gardner does have a pretty nasty platoon split, and I would look to sit him 30-40 times as well. Who will DH those 40-50 games?

    Maybe it will be Jorge Vazquez (I hope not) or Justin Maxwell (I could live with this), but Andruw is here to play the outfield, not DH.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    does the locker room presence have anything to do with it?

  • Sd John

    Something tells me we are not done seeing the yanks make another stealth trade here soon. With the surplus now of pitching talent (Hughes, betances, warren, banuelos, phelps,) I think we see a package with one or two of the mentioned plus some younger position players (Williams, Sanchez, romine) packaged together for a bat. Now here is a thought that crossed my mind after the shock wore off after Jesus leaving. Some combo of the above being moved for Hanley Ramirez. Replacing arod at 3rd or jeter at short having play the less demanding 3b and arod DH. We are not gonna stock pile this much pitching and not move it. I think the only true untouchable at this point is banuelos. Other than that, the other move I see happening is for a right fielder. If you think we go with jones/Chavez platoon DH you were prolly in the camp that actually believed bubba Crosby was going to be the staring CF years ago. Something is in the works, it’s fun to speculate.

    • JMK

      Nice idea on Hanley but he’s going to be making about $15.5 million over the next three seasons. Not sure how that works unless we’re giving up a contract. I don’t think either A-Rod or Jeter would take kindly to moving to DH because Hanley is coming over. Certainly not Jeter (I feel like a similar situation happened in the last decade, no?). And Hanley doesn’t even seem interested in moving off SS now.

      Anyway, I’m not a fan of Chavez. He (again) couldn’t stay healthy and was very unimpressive for much of his time here.

  • DM

    Sign Chavez. Trade Hughes — or AJ if you don’t have to eat 90% of his contract. Give Vasquez and/or Laird a serious look in Spring for some p/t DHing and corner infield backup.

  • AJavierkei Pavagawnett

    What are the killer G’s doing next year?

    Pena > Guerrero, Giambi > Damon

  • CJ

    What about parra from Arizona gold glove rf, swisher to dh, for Freddy Garcia plus prospects? They were in on Bart.

  • CJ

    Seth smith traded to Oakland for spare parts. At 2.5m, he would have been best possible platoon partner for jones of/dh. Younger more athletic can actually play of and cheaper than Damon. Cashman passed, what does that mean?


    First, why would you bring in Pena and pay $8mil when you have someone from your own organization who can do the same. If you look at the projected ZIPS for 2012. Pena and Vazquez are very similar. I trust the ZIPS more than any of you guys!!! If you gave both players 550ab’s Pena would hit .230, 35hr, 96rbi, and 181K’s. Vazquez would be at .235, which he will be higher, 31hr and 107rbi with 188K’s. Why pay 8mil when we have the same production for minimum! Plus ZIPS has both Pena and Vazquez as ‘average’ at 1b. Vazquez was at .993% last year. He is very good at first. At third he is playable with a very good arm, but not a lot of range. All everyone ever says is why cant we just use home grown players like we used to with Jeter, Posada, Pettitte. You have a chance now with just a DH, and everyone just wants to keep spending!! Give Chato a chance to start the season. If he doesnt work out pick someone up at the trade deadline, if not sooner. And why Damon? I guess just for sentimental reasons? He is projected at .260 12hr, 57rbi. Your DH is supposed to be a run producer. Damon is not. And he cant play anywhere either! Again, try Vazquez. You can pick up anyone at anytime for what Damon will produce. Vazquez’s season totals in AAA and winter league in 179 games he has a .290avg, 52hr and 161rbi!!! If that isnt a reason to give him a chance at DH, I dont know what is!!!!!

    • JMK

      LOL. Thank you.

    • JAG

      So, we’re basing this decision on BA, RBI totals, and Fielding percentage? Where is this time machine that took you back to the 70s when those were all relevant stats?

      • JMK

        Could you imagine Vazquez at 3B? Benny Hill music would be playing in the background, I suspect.

    • BJ

      You forgot about On Base Percentage in your comparison. Was it because it completely invalidated your point? Ok probably a good thing you left it out…

  • Brian

    Without having a good fulltime DH the pitcher could be batting. This problem caused the Yankees to fail last year, no power at the DH spot. The Yankees are using the DH spot in the wrong way. Johnny Damon added not only good hitting but chemistry to the team and that is what the Yankees need. If the Yankees do not add Johnny Damon they will not enter the postseason or be retired again in the ALDS.

    DON’T be CHEEP Yankees if you do not add Johnny Damon all the other money for A-rod CC Jeter and trade away Montero will be for nothing.

    • Sd John

      Now I’ve seen it all, Johnny Damon or bust eh. Ladies and gentleman, we have finally found the worst comment ever made on a Yankee board. That takes some doin bro.

  • Craig Maduro

    Two things:

    1). I have picked up on a little bit of a…neglectful attitude – for lack of a better term – in regard to the DH role. Just because the Yanks have above-average or stud hitters at pretty much every position does not mean that they can/should take the cheap(est) way out with the DH. The AL is going to be as competitive in 2012 as it was in 2011 – if not more and it would not be wise for them to take the “we’ll address this later” approach if they can avoid it. The Yankees weakened their offense a bit to strengthen their starting pitching significantly, but they still need to find a way to replace Montero with a legit DH.

    2). Can we just lay out a blanket “no” for several guys? Hideki Matsui (I love what he did in NY, but c’mon), Jorge Vazquez, and Alfonso Soriano to name three in particular. Some guys are just terrible options that should not be seeing extended time in the Bronx.

  • Plank

    I think Damon’s proximity to 3000 hits should be mentioned as a possible reason he wouldn’t sign with the Yankees. He needs probably 3 seasons of playing full time. If he plays part time this year, he may need to play 4 years which is unlikely.

    If I were Damon, I would go for a full time gig somewhere if I could find it.