Our long national nightmare is almost over. The saga of Johnny Damon looks to be drawing to a close with the Tigers’ reported two-year, $14 million offer out to Damon. The Braves reportedly have a one-year, $4 million offer out as well, while the White Sox are nibbling around the negotiations.
It’s very unlikely the White Sox win any such negotiating process with Damon given Detroit owner Mike Ilitch’s sudden outlaying of money, but Chicago would be the best option for Damon personally.
The White Sox play in a hitter’s haven, which would inflate Damon’s value on the offensive side of the ball. In addition, with no tried-and-true designated hitter on staff, Damon could rotate with other outfielders through the DH role, minimizing inevitable wear and tear for a 36-year-old.
Frankly, Chicago could use Damon’s bat. Currently, the club figures to have Juan Pierre in left, Alex Rios in center, Carlos Quentin in right and Andruw Jones as the default designated hitter. All outfielders have warts on their resume, and relying on all four for 500 at-bats comes across as a foolish proposition. By adding Damon into the equation, it would push Andruw Jones back into a more-deserved backup role. While Jones showed signs this past season of breaking away from his Los Angeles nightmare, he’s still not qualified enough to hand the bulk of at-bats to. While Rios plays a valuable position in centerfield, his offensive game has dipped noticeably these last few years and is far from a sure thing. Pierre is a slapstick hitter with no plate discipline and no power. Quentin, for all his possibilities, has coming back from an injury-marred year. Playing time would be a given.
All told, it seems like a great location for Damon.
However, word is that Chicago would not be able to match Damon’s annual $7 million salary offered by the Tigers without going over budget; the White Sox have maintained for quite a while now that their outfield/DH situation is to their satisfaction; and GM Kenny Williams is not a fan of Scott Boras, sarcastically asking a reporter who Damon’s agent was when Damon/Chicago rumors surfaced a couple weeks ago.
While the situation in Chicago might benefit Damon most, it would be a surprise to see him head to the South Side. That leaves Atlanta and Detroit. Ignoring for a moment the clear financial disparities between the two teams’ offers, playing time seems to be open for Damon on both teams.
Atlanta currently has a Melky Cabrera – Nate McLouth – Jason Heyward trio tentatively in place, with Matt Diaz and Jordan Schafer having a say in things. If Damon was to sign, it would mean Heyward opens the year in Triple-A or Cabrera shifting to backup outfielder. Whatever the direction the team would choose with Damon in the fold, he wouldn’t block anyone worthy of immediate, extensive playing time.
Detroit currently has Carlos Guillen atop its depth chart for left field, with no clear answer at DH. (Ryan Raburn? Wilkin Ramirez? Clete Thomas? Jeff Larish? An unimposing bevy of candidates, indeed.) Detroit may have some problems shifting Guillen to a primary designated hitter role as he has made it clear he is not amenable to such a switch. If Detroit can convince Guillen to move to DH at least predominantly, it will boost the defense of Detroit’s outfield, a facet to Damon’s game that while in decline, still brings value.
Looking at 2009 park factors only, Detroit’s Comerica Park is considerably kinder to home runs (.974, below average with 1.000 as neutral) than Turner’s Field in Atlanta (.861). No matter what stadium Damon ends up at, the odds he hits 20 home runs are longer than the odds Scott Boras considers the Damon negotiations a fiasco. (Seriously, I can’t wait to see how Boras spins this once Damon signs.)
Given Comerica also ranked higher than Turner’s when it comes to doubles, it looks as if Detroit is the kinder stadium for Damon to play in. As Damon puts eyes on a possible chase to 3,000 hits (he is 75 away from 2,500) it’s important he maximize his opportunities in a hitting environment. Of course, if Damon truly cared about career milestones, he would have made a deal work with the Yankees and their homer-happy park.
Moving to finances, which is clearly what is driving Damon’s decision, Detroit made waves today with a reported offer of two years and $14 million. Did agent Scott Boras reach out to the Detroit owner much like he did for Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez several years ago? Maybe, but unlike the Ordonez contract that’s currently handcuffing the Tigers, this rumored deal makes financial sense.
When saying financial sense, means market value, not whether the Tigers should make the offer or not. After all, this is a team that dumped Curtis Granderson off on the Yankees amid concerns the Tigers needed to slash payroll. Damon for $7 million or Granderson for just under $6 million, despite Granderson’s platoon difficulties, is a no-brainer.
Leaving that aside, while Damon was certainly assisted by Yankee Stadium last year, he still remains a valuable bat and a competent defender with no discerning signs of falling off a cliff like some are apt to do as they age. FanGraphs’ valuation of Damon’s abilities shows that he has been worth more than $7 million on the free agent market since 2003 (when he was at $6.8 million) and has been in double digits three of his four years in New York.
While the market correction these last couple of years is generally welcome, it always leaves a few players undervalued and slipping through the cracks. Orlando Hudson can testify to that, and it seems as if Damon was a victim as well… until this shining beacon of generosity came forth from Mike Ilitch.
Programming note: This will be my final article for THT Live. Tomorrow, I begin a job working for New England Sports Network (NESN) and will write about New England sports on their Web site. I want to give a shout out of appreciation to the THT overlord, Dave Studenmund and his grizzled, wise hand guiding me into becoming a better writer. The same goes for all the THT writers and readers, who helped me over the year-plus I wrote at THT take a step forward as a writer. Thank you.