Why Damon is still available
If we were to create a "no-tool player" -- a Frankenstein's monster crudely stitched together using only the worst individual skills possessed by active major leaguers -- we might give him the foot speed of one of the senior
Of this, though, there is little doubt: We would bestow upon this unfortunate creature the throwing arm of
Damon has been a free agent for more than two months, and during that time he and his agent,
Boras, when reached by SI.com on Monday, deemed it to be "a little bit premature" to discuss a possible result for Damon. "We're moving through the marketplace," Boras said. "I'll probably know more as the week goes on... I'd say his performance speaks for itself. It's hard to find many left fielders who hit 24 home runs and score 107 runs from the top of the lineup."
Yet it isn't Damon's offense that has teams wary of him. In this recently begun era of financial restraint and advanced defensive statistics, baseball's general managers like to bolster their rosters with strong fielders (see the Red Sox' signings of defensive wizards
Two other factors are playing a role in the lack of demand for Damon's services, points out one general manager who does not plan to bid for him. One is that Damon turned 36 in November, and might be on the cusp of a precipitous decline. "I think there's a greater awareness in the game of age," the GM said. "It's like a hot potato thing with an older player. There's a fear that you'll be left holding an older player at the wrong time." The second is that Damon hit the market during a winter in which there is a glut of comparable players from which clubs can choose. "In every free-agent market there will be some soft underbelly," he said. "The underbelly is probably in corner-type players this year.
Damon and Boras had reportedly been seeking a two-year, $20 million deal, but baseball's 30 clubs have responded to that request with a deafening silence. The Yankees offered two years and $14 million, which Damon declined. SI.com's
That team might or might not be the Yankees. In the long run, it might be beneficial to Damon if it is not, even if it means he won't be adding much to the $100 million he has earned so far in his career. Despite the potato gun he has attached to his left shoulder, there are many things that Damon still does quite well; at least three of them, in the five-tool rubric. While his range in left field is slightly below average, though not abhorrent, he remains a savvy and speedy base runner, as evidenced by the 12 bases he stole in 2009 without being caught, and underscored by the two bases he swiped on a single
He still hits for average -- .282 last season, to go with a .365 on-base-percentage -- and he can still pull the ball out of the park fairly regularly, a career-high 24 times in '09. In fact, of the top 50 finishers in OPS from last season, only two are currently available on the open market: Damon and Branyan, the former Mariner who doesn't have nearly Damon's track record. Damon's detractors argue that his '09 power surge was a creation of the new Yankee Stadium, with its short right field porch that seemed custom-built for his compact left-handed swing, and where Damon hit 17 of his home runs. Yet according to
It took, in other words, a season away from the Yankees, a season in which Abreu was no longer overshadowed by New York's hulking gang of All-Stars, for him to be appreciated (and financially rewarded) for what he is: a player whose qualities exceed his deficiencies, even in the twilight of his career, and who can still represent a key cog on a playoff team. Abreu's experience ought to be instructive for Damon, his erstwhile outfield mate. A move to a left fielder-needy team, such as the Giants or the Braves, even at a discounted one-year rate, could allow him to reestablish his value, and to prove that even though he can't throw -- not really -- he's not a team-killer in the field. After all, according to the
If Damon performs to his recent offensive norms with a new club, then perhaps he and Boras can expect to receive one more multi-year bonanza with which he can close out his career, as did Abreu. Or maybe they can't. Maybe he will never again receive an offer better than those two years and $14 million. That's how the anonymous GM expects things to play out. "I don't think he'll get a couple years after next year," the GM said. "He couldn't have a better season that he did this year." Still, the GM added, "I would never bet against Boras getting what he wants to get. I would never have dreamed that [Boras client]
Of a report that surfaced last week that Damon might be considering retirement, Boras said, "That did not come from Johnny Damon, and that did not come from me." It is, therefore, safe to assume that Damon will be plying his trade somewhere come Opening Day. At this point, however, it also seems safe to assume that Damon will in at least 2010 turn out to be that rarest of things in baseball today: a player who is represented by Scott Boras, and who is also a bargain.