It’s Not The Second Advent In The Bronx, People

Am I missing something?

Johnny Damon is a fine player to be sure. But as a Blue Jays fan I can’t see what the fuss is about. Oh I know all about the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, I know Damon has gone from Jesus to Judas etc. etc etc. I remember the 2004 ALCS, the Idiot and all the mystique of Damon. I’m reading the usual off season blather about how the Yankees have already bought the World Series with this acquisition … the same song and dance I’ve heard since November 2000.

As a Jays’ fan my reaction is meh.

I’ve watched Damon for years and enjoyed his talents but this is hardly an earth-shattering transaction save for the money involved.

Damon is good fielder with a noodle arm. He’s never won a Gold Glove. Yes, the Yankees needed a center fielder. They got one. Damon plays center field. He covers some real estate. His offense is decent enough, but let’s not forget that his career OPS+ is 102 … meaning that we’re talking about an average offensive player who’s not a Gold Glove defender. In Damon’s 10 full seasons he’s been above average in half of them. He’s been above average in OBP six times and over the last four years has an OBP of .342 away from Fenway Park.

I charted all AL centerfielders in 2005 and Damon comes out second in OBP and OPS+, however eight of the other center fielders are 27 and younger—which means there’s a decent shot for improvement. The average age of the four others is 34 (which means that they’re probably in decline) and there’s Torii Hunter who was neither fish nor foul (not over 30 but older than 27). In other words Damon only finishes high due to circumstance rather than pure merit.

Let’s not forget some recent history:

1996 Indians lose Albert Belle—1997 Indians make postseason.
1999 Mariners lose Ken Griffey Jr.—2000 Mariners make postseason.
2000 Indians lose Manny Ramirez—2001 Indians make postseason.
2000 Mariners lose Alex Rodriguez—2001 Mariners make postseason.
2001 Athletics lose Jason Giambi—2002 Athletics make postseason.
2003 Braves lose Gary Sheffield—2004 Braves make post season.

The Braves, A’s, Mariners (twice), and Indians (twice), lost players that were miles more valuable than Johnny Damon and still won. A good club can withstand the loss of a key offensive contributor and still prosper. In the case of A-Rod and Belle—they went to a division rival and still their former clubs made it to October. I hardly see the loss of Damon to the Yankees as the death knell of the 2006 Red Sox; not when the Yankees rotation consists of Randy Johnson (42), Mike Mussina (37), and some combination of Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small and hoping that Chien-Ming Wang doesn’t suffer from the sophomore jinx.

What do the Red Sox have to replace? Well, they need a warm body in center field at the very least. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little offense you can probably get Damon’s defensive equal out there and let’s face it, you’d be hard pressed to find a worse arm. You need to find enough bases on balls to make up for Damon’s 30-points-above-the-league-average-OBP. You need to find 18 stolen bases somewhere.

That doesn’t strike me as a daunting shopping list.

Yes, they lost a little personality, but David Ortiz is the heart and soul of the team—not Damon. Yes, the Yankees’ upgraded a position that needed upgrading but it’s not like they upgraded with a young Ken Griffey Jr. type player; they upgraded it with a league average offensive player with no arm and less-than-Gold Glove defense on the wrong side of 30. They didn’t lose Manny Ramirez to the Yankees, they didn’t lose David Ortiz to the Yankees—they lost Johnny Damon to the Yankees.

Furthermore the Red Sox were close to where the Yankees were three years ago, needing to upgrade at centerfield where 34-year-old Bernie Williams was starting to look like he couldn’t handle the job. Williams first poor season offensively in 2003 (109 OPS+) was better than five of eight Damon seasons before he turned 30. Now they’re faced with addressing the problem in 2006 rather than 2008.

Who knows, maybe some within Red Sox Nation got caught up in the Scott Boras’ hype about Damon’s Hall of Fame trajectory and comparisons to Rickey Henderson. I chuckled when folks stated that Damon’s best comp at age 31 was Tim Raines. Just for gits and shiggles check this out:

OPS+

Age Raines Damon
27   149     85
28   120    113
29   132     94
30   117    117
31    98    113 
32   122     ?
33   138     ?

These are not similar careers—not by a longshot. I saw Tim Raines entire career and Johnny Damon ain’t no Tim Raines (let alone Rickey Henderson). Heck, you factor in defense and he’s not even Garry Maddox and scarcely above Paul Blair and Devon White.

What about a player with a career OPS+ of 102 (including his decline phase) and 280 stolen bases? That’s not Damon—that’s Lloyd Moseby.

The bottom line is the Yankees got a pretty good center fielder at the expense of the Red Sox, but history teaches us that it isn’t the end of the world. I expect the Yankees will be pleased with this acquisition in 2006 but it hardly guarantees them the World Series. The Yankees got A-Rod for Pete’s sake and it didn’t get them that and this deal hardly adds the talent that the Rodriguez deal did. Damon is a fine ballplayer but the Yankees aren’t getting what the Red Sox got back on December 21, 2001 and the Red Sox didn’t lose the Johnny Damon circa 2001. The Yankees are getting something with a lot more miles on the odometer and a lot more dents on the chassis and a lot grittier oil in the crankcase.

And they paid a showroom Porsche 911 price tag for it.

I say play the season … and the one after that, and the one after that, and then we’ll see who’s shedding the tears of joy or of sorrow.

This ain’t Ruth sold to the Yankees, folks.

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