At the beginning of the offseason, nearly everyone had Johnny Damon pegged for a return to the Bronx. It’s become apparent, however, that the likelihood of his returning to the Yankees is slim to none and slim’s as likely as Milton Bradley Day at Wrigley Field. Ok, so the Yankees have decided, with the prospect of a bountiful 2010 free agent class, not to invest in a 2 year contract for a 36 year old left fielder. But with Jason Bay now a Met, Marlon Byrd a Cub, and Matt Holliday out of everyone’s price range except for the Cardinals, where is the demand for Damon? Where’s the love for this postseason hero?
Fans of the game have lots of complaints about Damon, many of them valid. He is 36 and looking for a 2 year deal that will take him to nearly his 38th birthday. He is represented by Mr. Snidely Whiplash himself, Scott Boras. He does have a very weak arm in left field and, for the most part, that limits him to left. His power numbers were doubtlessly enhanced by the short porch at new Yankee Stadium. It’s understandable that GMs around baseball would show little interest in November and early December considering Damon’s drawbacks and the likelihood that he would return to the Yankees. Since the Yankee clipper has sailed, however, I’m more than a little surprised that there’s still so little interest in Damon.
Damon’s RC+ has been greater than 100 (above average) every year since 2001, when he was an Athletic, and every year but one since 1998. His career OPS, wOBA, and RC+ are all above average at .794, .351, and 112, respectively. According to Baseball Prospectus’ EQBRR, Damon’s base running has been above average every season of his career. His walk rate has averaged 10.6 percent over the last four seasons.
|**Where’s the love for Johnny this offseason?** (Icon/SMI)|
Even if you’re convinced that part of Damon’s success last year was a result of a favorable home ballpark, it’s difficult to foresee a scenario in which Damon isn’t an average offensive contributor in 2010 and 2011 and he’ll probably be considerably better than that. Remember that as much as we bemoan the fact that Damon got to play half his games in Yankee Stadium, we also must acknowledge that he played in the tougher league and played 25+ games each of the last two years against the Red Sox’ and Rays’ rotations.
So GMs’ collective hesitation about Damon must be because of his defense, right? Perhaps. He does have a weak arm, as scouts and statheads alike will acknowledge. And a check of his ’09 UZR shows us that he was, apparently, nine runs below average as a left fielder last year. While UZR and Tango’s fans scouting report seem to agree on Damon’s defense in 2009, ZRDif (the difference between his RZR and the average RZR for his position) and Chone’s Total Zone aren’t so sure. RZR (found in THT’s Baseball Annual) has Damon at .013 — above average in left — and Total Zone has him as a plus-six run defensive player in left.
By now we should know not to use one year defensive data in evaluating a player so even factoring in Damon’s minus-nine from UZR last year, his three year average UZR is 1.7 runs above average. His speed score is above average and he has stolen at least 12 runs every full season of his career. While his arm is a drawback, there is reason to believe that his range is still there.
For their parts, CHONE’s projections for Damon have him pegged for a .270/.357/.432 slash line in 2009, good for nine runs above average offensively and seven runs above average defensively. Damon’s had at least 600 plate appearances every season since 1998 so, 16 runs above average would have him as roughly a three win player in 2010. The ZIPS projections at Baseball Think Factory have basically the same line: .272/.350/.436. Conservatively, there’s no reason to think that Damon won’t be worth 4.5 to 5 wins over the next two seasons.
Damon’s value, therefore, should have him worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 to $12 million per year for two years. Even at the discounted market rate this offseason, he’s easily worth $16 million over two years and yet, there’s seemingly very little interest in his services. I’m surprised that neither the Mets nor Cardinals have viewed Damon as an alternative to Bay and Holliday. The Giants haven’t shown any interest that I know of either. There’s been talk that he’ll end up in Atlanta but, to my knowledge, the Braves haven’t pursued him to any real degree. It’s possible that the market for Damon will pick up once Holliday signs. So while there is a lot of mystery about the demand for Damon this offseason, one thing’s a lot more certain: someone’s likely to get a very good bargain when Damon ultimately signs.