Archive for Johnny Damon
Cory asks: Word is Johnny Damon cleared waivers, is he worth looking at to fill the DH role? It seems like he would be at the least a slight upgrade over Chavez/Jones, but would pretty much close the door on Montero being any more than a bench option this season.
Damon did clear waivers, at least according to Jayson Stark. That means the Rays are now able to trade him to any team for a player that a) also cleared waivers, b) was claimed off waivers by the Rays, or c) is not on the 40-man roster. Money really isn’t an issue here, there’s less than $1.5M left on Damon’s contract this season. He does have some weird incentives tied to attendance, but I think those go away if traded since they’re dependent on Tampa’s attendance. Either way, it’s only another $750k at most.
So the real question is this: Is Johnny actually better than what the Yankees already have at DH? Even with his Friday homer off CC Sabathia, he’s still hitting jut .261/.315/.395 with ten homers in 481 plate appearances. The Trop is one of the more extreme pitchers’ parks in the game, so it’s not a surprise that Damon has a .356 wOBA on the road and a .270 wOBA at home. The current cast of DH’s for the Yankees is Eric Chavez (.323 wOBA vs. RHP in 81 PA) and Andruw Jones (.380 wOBA vs. LHP in 103 PA), though we should also include Jorge Posada in that mix (.351 wOBA vs. RHP in 228 PA). Damon’s platoon split is basically non-existent (.315 wOBA vs. RHP and .309 vs. LHP), and based on just this season’s numbers, he’s not an upgrade anywhere. Unless you believe he’ll hit like he has on the road for the rest of the season.
There’s also the roster space issue. Someone would have to get the axe to make room for Damon, and frankly both Chavez and Jones have proven to be very useful in their prescribed roles. Eduardo Nunez can’t go anywhere because he’s the backup middle infielder, and they’re not going to cut ties with Posada. They’re just not. The Yankees could get a little creative and swing a trade for Damon on the night of August 31st, so they wouldn’t need to play with a wonky roster for an extended period of time because of September call-ups the next day. Of course, there’s basically no chance the Rays will go along with that, and they’ve already shown an unwillingness to trade within the division.
Johnny’s still a good player, but he’s no longer great or even very good. He’s basically an average hitter these days, which is an upgrade over what the Yankees were getting out of their DH’s for most of the year. I think I’d rather have the Chavez-Jones tandem going forward, unless they can finagle something on the 31st and use him as an extra bat in September. There’s a pretty good chance that if he wasn’t a former Yankee, we probably wouldn’t even consider Johnny a viable option. There’s some nostalgia afoot.
Via Jon Heyman, the Rays have agreed to terms with both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Damon gets $5.25M and some incentives, Manny gets just $2M. That’s the steal of the offseason right there. Tampa gets some much needed punch, even if both guys are well into their decline phases. Not even $8M for the pair? Unbelievable.
Well, it’s done. The Yankees have signed Rafael Soriano for three years and $35 million dollars. Given that Cashman said he was not interested in giving up the first round pick, it came as a bit of a surprise. In retrospect, though, everyone should have expected this.
Two words: Scott Boras. Boras and the New York Yankees have a long history, tied together by big numbers made by superstar players. This isn’t the first time Boras (with some help from the Yankees ownership) has managed to wiggle his grubby little hands deep into pinstriped pockets. As a matter of fact, it’s happened over and over. It makes perfect sense that the team with enormous financial power spends a lot of time dealing with the agent known for record-breaking contracts. Two powerhouses with complementary results should go hand-in-hand, but most of the time, both sides can’t win in a negotiation.
Exhibit A: In 1998, Bernie Williams was coming off a .328/.408/.544 season where he banged 21 homers and 100 RBIs. The offseason started off pretty bleak, though: George Steinbrenner had made it quite clear that his highest offer for the beloved center fielder was five years and $60M and not a dime more. Boras insisted that he had seven- and eight-year offers from mystery teams. There were plenty of people who thought this was a load of bull, but Boras held his ground, so the Yankees eyed Albert Belle instead. But Boras fought. He brought up meetings with both the Diamondbacks and the much-hated Boston Red Sox, who had were rumored to offer our dear Bernie seven years and $90M. When Belle signed with the Orioles, Boras pounced, and before anyone knew it, Williams was a Yankee to the tune of seven years and $87.5M, way above what Steinbrenner originally wanted to pay. In the end, the contract was a pretty good one: Belle suffered hip issues that knocked him out of baseball just two years later, and Bernie hit .298/.386/.480 and signed on for one last year in 2006.
Exhibit B: Alex Rodriguez. People could write books about the Rodriguez-Boras relationship, to say the least. In another example of shrewd Boras negotiating, Alex Rodriguez snapped himself up a 10-year, $252M contract from the Rangers. The franchise seemed to have forgotten they actually had to have that money to pay it, and began searching for trade options. In 2003, there was an attempt to trade Rodriguez to the Red Sox, but the complicated negotiation would have involved losing $30M. Interestingly enough, the trade fell through not because of Boras (who was fine with Rodriguez losing the cash), but the MLBPA, who felt that losing guaranteed contract money set a bad precedent. As per usual though, Red Sox loss was Yankee gain, and the Yankees acquired Rodriguez in February of 2004. But where Boras really showed off his skills was when Rodriguez opted out of the remaining three years and $72M of his contract in 2007 in favor of renegotiation. This decision, as I’m sure you all remember, was leaked during the 2007 World Series and I bet the New York Post had some really, really good front covers discussing the matter in their, ah, unique way. To calm the storm of New York rage, Rodriguez tried to soothe things by contacting the Yankees office directly, at the advice of Warren Buffet. As Rodriguez attempted to repair his public image (never his strong front) Boras took advantage of the fluctuations of the Yankees front office to secure the absolutely insanely absurd 10 year/$275M contract Rodriguez plays under today. He had a bigger hand in the incentives: each time Rodriguez passes a person on the all-time home run list, it’s an additional $6M in his pocket. If Rodriguez becomes the all-time home run leader, his contract will exceed $300M, the first ever in professional sports. I’m sure I’m not the only one who grimaces and tries to ignore how much we’re paying A-Rod in favor of the numbers he puts up, but Boras will be Boras. Truly the best worst contract ever.
I’m glad to say that the story for Johnny Damon is much shorter and sweeter. It was December 2005 and the Boston Red Sox refused to budge on their 3-year contract offer for their center fielder, the caveman-like Johnny Damon. Damon, who had already admitted that he doesn’t want to be a Yankee, was looking for more than three years, and the Sox would not negotiate down from Boras‘ five-year plan. Boras even tried to get in contact with the Sox’s owner, Larry Luchino, but to no avail, and soon enough, Damon was a Yankee to the tune of four years and $52M. He would go on to hit .285/.363/.458 in the pinstripes and looked significantly less like a yeti, both great things about his tenure in the Bronx. I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember his 2009 double steal against the Phillies. The story has a sad note for everyone who loved Damon as a Yankee, though, and for once Boras’ demand for cash came back to bite his client. Damon demanded no less than the $13M he was paid for any further deals, and the Yankees said no. When they refused to budge, Damon was forced to take a one year, $8M offer for the Tigers. He’s a free agent now, so we’ll have to see how that ends up.
The story continues. In 2008-09 offseason, the Yankees were coming off their first season without October baseball since the strike, and they were out for blood. What do you do when you’re the New York Yankees and you want to win? You use your biggest advantage: in a mindboggling display of financial might, the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett. Teixeira, another Boras client, picked up the record for highest paid first baseman with an eight year, $180M contract of his own. While Teixeira’s 2009 numbers were strong (he lead the league in RBIs and home runs), his glacially slow start in 2010 contributed to a down season. Here’s hoping that he’ll be make himself close to worth the $22.5M he’ll be getting in 2011.
Soriano is only another chapter in the long story between Boras and the Yankees. “Like Williams and Rodriguez, he secured himself an exorbitant amount of money; his numbers from the previous year were stellar enough to pretend to justify both the years and the cost, at least for the Yankees. think it’s safe to say that Soriano and his three year, $35M contract won’t be the last time these two powerhouses meet. Andrew Brackman, for example, is a Boras client, and I’m interested to see how he develops as a pitcher and what Boras can do for him. While Boras clients almost never completely live up to their contracts, there is no doubt many of his clients have been incredibly important and still quite valuable to the current Yankees and those of the recent past. Let’s hope Soriano continues this trend.
As the Yanks and their division rival Tampa Bay Rays look to fill out their rosters, both teams are in the market for a fourth outfielder/veteran bat for the bench. The Yanks, we know, are looking at Andruw Jones, and the team has been tied to Johnny Damon. Tonight, Jon Heyman tweets that the Rays and Yanks are at least both interested in those two players, and it’s possible that one could wind up in Tampa Bay while the other comes to the Bronx. For the Yanks, I’d take Jones over Damon. He’s a righty bat who can still play the field while Damon would give the Yanks another lefty but with suspect defense.
Meanwhile, Heyman also says the Yanks are still in on Rafael Soriano despite Brian Cashman‘s insistence that he won’t surrender a draft pick for a reliever. It behooves Soriano to have others believe the Yanks are interested, but there’s no reason to think their off-season strategy has changed lately.
The Yankees have millions to spend. After missing out on Cliff Lee and with Andy Pettitte off of their payroll ledger for now, the Bombers are going to be hard pressed to spend their $200 million. The team finds itself in this situation unwillingly, and everyone in baseball knows it.
Enter Scott Boras. No one can sniff out a money trail better than Boras. Despite the fact that he’s been operating in the league for what seems like eons, he still manages to eke out more dollars for his top clients than anyone else. He creates mystery teams and player comps that leave most people rolling their eyes in amusement, but when the Hot Stove League cools, his clients manage to get their paydays. Adrian Beltre can attest to that.
Right now, Boras can smell blood. As Mike detailed earlier, Boras is trying to get the Yanks interested in Rafael Soriano, and while the Yanks would love to add the former Tampa Bay closer to their bullpen, they’ll do so at his price. It’s time, in other words, for a standoff between two of the game’s top financial institutions.
When it comes to Soriano, Boras is saying all the right things. In an extensive interview with ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, Boras laid it on hot and heavy. “That door is open for a number of different reasons…I don’t think there is a team in baseball where he could be asked to be a setup guy other than the Yankees,” Boras said of his free agent client who clearly wants a good job next year. “There is also a value in playing with Mariano Rivera.”
Boras clearly is trying to sell Soriano to the Yanks as Rivera’s heir apparent, but it might be a tough sell. Rivera will pitch in the Bronx for at least two more seasons, and the Yankees aren’t going to want to give Sorianonear-closer money to set up for three years just so he can close in 2013. Brian Cashman and the Yanks have learned over the last few seasons that it’s easy to build a bullpen out of low-cost players, and the marginal win upgrade that established bullpen arms bring isn’t usually worth the additional salary. Will having insurance for Rivera change that approach? I wouldn’t bet on it.
But Soriano can be a useful piece for the Yanks. While we might not want to face the facts, Rivera is 41, and the Yanks could do with another arm behind him. It would also free up Joba Chamberlain as either a starting rotation — my unrealistic pipe dream that flies in the face of Cashman’s words — or as a trade chit for a pitcher. If the Yanks can lower Boras’ asking price, this is a match that could just work.
But Scott Boras isn’t stopping with just Soriano. He’s again beating the Johnny Damon drum. “As Johnny has said he is more than willing to return to New York,” Boras said.
Now, Boras was of course the agent who told Damon not to sign a two-year deal with the Yanks after the 2009 season and who didn’t get Johnny a better deal. This year, Boras is trying to do right by Damon, but the Yankees again aren’t interested. They don’t need an old lefty bat who plays suspect defense in left field. Rather, they need a right-hand power bat or a defensive fourth outfielder who can hit better than, say, Greg Golson. Damon wants more playing time than the Yanks would give him, and it’s just not a fit.
So here we will have to watch Boras go to work. He has two clients who want to get paid, and he has a target who has money to spend. Even as we hit a slow stretch of the off-season, it’s worth watching these two dramas unfold. Can a master agent who gets more money for his clients than would seem possible pull it off now? The Yankees are clearly in his sights whether they want to be or not.
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.
Boy, lots of people are wondering what the Yankees will do if they don’t sign Cliff Lee for whatever reason. I’m curious too, but I’m also pretty optimistic about them signing the lefty. Anyway, this week’s mailbag offers a trio of Plan B questions, plus some stuff on Johnny Damon and Robbie Cano‘s career. If you ever want to send in a question, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Ryan asks: If the Yanks miss out on Lee and/or Pettitte retires who do the Yanks target via trade? They don’t seem high on Greinke, Liriano and Carpenter moves don’t make sense for those clubs and Garza in-division would be a hard get. Is Nolasco, Wandy, Lowe, Zambrano or Carmona good enough?
Greinke would be the best of the bunch, by quite a margin, but like you said the team doesn’t seem too enthused about landing him. I agree with you on Liriano, Carpenter, and Garza as well. Nolasco’s a really good pitcher, with 8.6 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 (removing intentional walks) in his three full seasons. He’s never posted worse than a 3.86 FIP or 3.75 xFIP, or been worth less than 2.5 wins according to FanGraphs. He’s also pretty affordable as a Super Two, earning $3.8M in 2010 while still being under team control in 2011 and 2012. My biggest concern with Nolasco is that he’s really homer prone, about one every 7.1 innings pitched, and that’s in a big park in Florida. He won’t replace Lee, very few can, but Nolasco could certainly be a solid mid-rotation guy for the Yankees.
I really like Wandy Rodriguez, but I think the price would be a little too nuts even though he’ll be a free agent after the season. Derek Lowe‘s okay these days, he’s good for innings but not necessary good performance. If the Braves eat some of the $30M left on his contract and take some mid-level prospects in return, sure. I suspect they’ll opt to keep him under those conditions though. Zambrano’s a nutcase and isn’t as good as everyone thinks; A.J. Burnett has out fWAR’d Big Z 12.8 to 11.8 since 2006. Plus there’s a ton of money left on his deal. And he’s a nut case. Carmona’s way too risky. He’s generally good, but his consistency makes A.J. blush.
Of the guys you mentioned, Nolasco’s the best, though I’d try really really hard for Greinke or Carpenter before settling on him. Whichever way they go, the pitcher they get will not be as good as Cliff Lee, that much is a given.
Adam asks: If the Yanks lose out on Lee, do you think Josh Johnson is an obvious target? Would a package of Montero, Brackman/Betances, Noesi, plus one more lower level guy get it done? Or do you think the trade would be even more.
The Marlins have no reason to move Johnson. He signed a big contract that keeps him in Florida for the next three years at well below market rates (just $35.25M through 2013), and don’t forget that their new park opens next season. Not only will that rake in some extra cash, but the team will surely want its young, homegrown, superstar right-hander to throw the first pitch in the park’s history. The Fish don’t really have a use for Montero; they just gave John Buck that ridiculous contract and they’re set at first with Gaby Sanchez. Even if Sanchez falters, Logan Morrison will step back into his natural position. So that right there creates a problem, Montero has less value to them than most.
If I’m the Marlins, I want a monster return for Johnson, more than the Royals want for Greinke given his contract status. Montero, Gardner, and Banuelos wouldn’t get it done, not even with two other prospects (say Adam Warren and David Adams) thrown in. I would, theoretically, ask for a young pitcher with Josh Johnson upside and big league success to his name, a top third base prospect, a centerfielder, and then minor leaguers. I don’t know who can put that package together, maybe the Orioles with Brian Matusz, Josh Bell, and Adam Jones (plus others)? That doesn’t do it for me though, and I love Brian Matusz. Point being, it’ll be so tough to acquire JJ that I don’t think he’s a viable Plan B. He’d be great, no question, I just don’t know how the hell the Yankees would get him.
Anonymous asks: I guess I’m getting a little impatient waiting for the Yanks to make a move. Cash could look at the Braves with Jair Jurrjens a 24 yr old with a 37-27 record, maybe Swisher & Eduardo Nunez with a few pitching prospects throw-in. Or take Chris Carpenter for two yrs at 15m & Jon Jay a good young OFer a hell of a lot cheaper then Lee! And Ricky Nolasco could be had at around 6m. Look at Lee in five yrs 37 and getting paid 24-25m?
We already talked about Carpenter and Nolasco, so let’s focus on Jurrjens. He’s 24, yes, but he’s had some injury trouble in his young career, namely a shoulder issue in 2007 and a pair of leg related ailments in 2010. He’s also not a strikeout guy, posting a career best 6.65 K/9 this season. The walks aren’t much of an issue (2.98 BB/9 over the last three years, taking out intentionals) but his declining ground ball rate (51.5% grounders in 2008, 42.9% in 2009, 39.9% in 2010) and increasing homerun rate (0.53 HR/9 in 2009, 0.63 in 2009, 1.01 in 2010) are.
Jurrjens is under control for three more seasons as an arbitration eligible player, though his peripheral stats scare me a bit. Swisher for Jurrjens would be pretty fair in terms of value (the Yanks would probably have to kick in someone like Nunez, who you suggested), but I’d rather keep Swish than trade him for a guy that won’t be much more than a mid-rotation arm for the Yanks, assuming he stays healthy. With Crawford off the market (this question was sent in before Crawford signed), trading Swish (or any outfielder for that matter) opens a rather gaping hole.
Matt asks: Hey huge fan of the site read it everyday several times a day, you guys are great. I have an idea for a post. The case to bring back Damon?
I think everyone here knows we’ve moved on from Damon even though we full appreciate his service to the Yankee cause. He followed up great 2009 season (.376 wOBA, 3.3 fWAR) with a decidedly average one in 2010 (.340 wOBA, 1.9 fWAR), and it wasn’t just Detroit’s ballpark either. His wOBA at Comerica (.350) far exceeded his wOBA on the road (.330). For argument’s sake, let’s make a case for a reunion with Johnny.
Although Damon’s offense dropped off this season, he still got on base at a .355 clip and stole double digit bases. Even though Comerica didn’t hurt him much, moving back into Yankee Stadium would probably help get him back into double digit homers as well. Given Brett Gardner‘s recent wrist surgery and the chance that it could negatively impact him at least at the outset of next season, Damon would give the team some leftfield insurance and overall depth in general. If he came back, Jorge Posada would have to be the everyday catcher because you want both in the lineup. Playing one or the other defeats the purpose. That would allow them to be a bit more patient with Montero should they need to be.
Johnny can’t be looking for much money after making $8M in 2010, so $4-5M should get it done. Basically Russell Martin money. There’s certainly a case for bringing Damon back, but given the team’s needs, I don’t see much of a fit going forward.
Kevin asks: If you had to guess right now, Robinson Cano will have how many hits when he retires?
He’s at 1,075 right now, less than two months after his 28th birthday. Derek Jeter, for comparison, was sitting on close to 1,400 hits when he was a same age. I don’t think Robbie will reach 3,000 hits simply because the odds are greatly stacked against him. He’s just too far away and middle infielders tend to breakdown rapidly and without warning in the mid-30′s.
I don’t see why Cano can’t maintain a 200 hits a year pace for the next three seasons before falling off to say, 180 for two years then 160 or so for three years. That would leave him right around 2,500, still a ridiculous total, more than Frank Thomas, Chipper Jones, and Mickey Mantle. Want an exact number? I’ll say … 2,517.
Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees aren’t the only team trying to acquire players at the winter meetings. In fact, some other teams are even trying to acquire players that played for the Yanks at one time or another. Jon Lane at YESNetwork.com rounded up the latest on some former Bombers, including Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Kerry Wood. One former Yank he did not mention is Tom Gordon, who I’ve seen in the halls in the few times. Flash lives in the area and does some broadcasting work for MLB Network Radio, but Gordon Edes says the 43 year old is trying to find a team willing to take a chance on him. He hasn’t appeared in a game since early-May 2009, so I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were him. Still kinda cool to see him hanging around though.