With free agency rapidly entering January, the lack of interest in Johnny Damon seems befuddling. Johnny had one of his best seasons at the plate last season, and most expected that he would likely receive offers in the 2 year, 10-12 million a year range. However, it seems that this is not the case, and it is becoming hard to identify a club that will hand him a multi year deal or an AAV in the 10 million dollar range. While his defense has declined and there are signs that he benefited from Yankee Stadium, he is still a player with plenty of value. Why doesn’t anyone want Damon?
Chuck Brownson of THT asked the same question last week, and he was equally confused:
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……
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.
As such, he should be drawing a lot more interest than he has actually garnered. I think clubs are simply attributing too much of his offensive value to Yankee Stadium, and are ignoring his track record and almost perfect record of health. Damon will likely end up with a below market deal, which gives me the slightest hope that the Yankees might jump on a bargain and bring him back. Adrian Beltre’s contract with the Red Sox might serve as a convenient template, as both are 3 win players with some concerns about their future performance (Beltre due to health, Damon due to age). The Yankees can offer Damon a one year deal at 9 million, with a player option for 6 million and a 1 million dollar buyout. If Damon plays very well, he can reenter the free agent market, and the Yankees will have paid 9 million for a good Damon year, which is below market. If Damon plays poorly, the Yankees can exercise the buyout and limit the loss to one year. It seems to make sense for both sides. Hopefully the two sides see that and reach an agreement.