Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Damon’

For much of the offseason, all eyes in the A.L. East have been focused at the top as the Red Sox gobbled up high-priced free agents and the Yankees looked for creative ways to spend their money. Yesterday, however, the rest of the division finally responded. In less than 24 hours, the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles all made (or were on the verge of making) significant moves. Below are some initial observations about these transactions.

Blue Jays trade Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera

Wells time in Toronto had some pits and valleys, but the Angels seem to be counting on his resurgence.

The banner above should really read the Jays traded Vernon Wells’ contract because that’s probably the most impactful component of the deal. Like the Yankees, the Angels have been unable to spend their money this offseason. First, the team was spurned by Carl Crawford, and then Adrian Beltre decided to play for the rival Texas Rangers. Without any other big names players to sign, and a gaping hole in the team’s offense, GM Tony Reagins turned his attention to the trade market and found an eager partner in Toronto’s Alex Anthopolous.

Even before the ink dried, Wells’ seven-year/$126 million contract extension, which was signed after the centerfielder’s career best 2006 season, was regarded as one of the worst in the game. When Wells’ performance plummeted in 2007, things looked even worse. As Wells’ star descended amid the backdrop of fiscal restraint, the contract became an even greater source of derision, and in some respects, may have cost former GM J.P. Ricciardi his job.

Because Wells’ deal was end-loaded, Toronto wound up paying only $40 million over the first three years of the extension. Even though fangraphs.com estimates the dollar value of his production at only $20 million over that timeframe, getting out from under the avalanche of dollars owed on the backend of the deal makes it seem as if it’s now the Jays who are enjoying the last laugh. Or does it?

Predictably, the initial reaction to the deal has focused on the Angels decision to assume the bulk of the $86 million remaining on Wells’ contract, especially when you consider the average value owed to the centerfielder over the next four seasons will surpass what Crawford is being paid by the Red Sox. However, when you also consider the $5 million reportedly going from Toronto to Anaheim as well as the $11 million in savings from the amount likely to be owed to Rivera and Napoli in 2011, the Angels total commitment of $70 million looks much more palatable. Of course, that depends on whether Wells’ can maintain the momentum of his resurgence in 2010. Besides, when Wells departs after the 2014 season, who’s to say that the Crawford contract won’t then be the focus of derision? Regardless, the Angels’ have the financial wherewithal to take a risk, especially in a year in which the team was unable to spend its resources elsewhere.

Although Rivera is a solid contributor, and Napoli has emerged as a pretty good hitter, neither really had much of a role on the Angels. Mike Sciosca has never been a fan of Napoli’s defense behind the plate (where the team plans to platoon Jeff Mathis and prospect Hank Conger), and the return of Kendry Morales will remove the need for him to play first base. The Blue Jays, however, should be able to use both players in their everyday lineup, especially with the departure of Lyle Overbay and expected shift of Jose Bautista to third base. Ultimately, the main advantage to the Blue Jays is they are no longer responsible for Wells’ hefty salary, which threatened to be almost 25% of the entire payroll. Toronto isn’t likely to get the same level of production from centerfield in 2011, but over the long term, the flexibility gained should help the team build for the future.

Rays sign Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez are poised for another reunion, but this time as teammates in Tampa.

The sight of Damon and Ramirez in the same A.L. East lineup is enough to give Yankees’ fans frightful flashbacks to when both were key members of the championship Boston Red Sox team. Although neither player still strikes the same amount of fear into the hearts of the opposition, both veterans should help fill out a thin Rays’ lineup that includes Evan Longoria and a whole host of question marks. The immediate indication is that Damon will keep left field warm while prospect Desmond Jennings gets a little more seasoning in Triple-A, while Ramirez will take over as the team’s full-time DH and provide lineup protection to Longoria.

Damon signed a pretty fair deal that could pay him as much as $6 million, but early reports suggest Manny’s contract is for a much more modest $2 million. Granted, Ramirez’ also comes with a lot of baggage, but the bottom line is the future Hall of Famer can still hit. Even in a year widely viewed as a major disappointment, Ramirez still ended up with an on-base percentage of .409 and OPS+ of 138. The key is keeping the enigmatic slugger healthy and happy, but the motivation for a better contract in 2012 should help take care of that. Agent Scott Boras is fond of referring to these kinds of one-year deals as pillow contracts, so in Tampa he has found Manny a soft landing.

If the Yankees had any confidence in Jorge Posada’s ability to catch regularly, either Ramirez of Damon would have been a perfect fit on paper. As things stand, however, the Yankees, like most other teams, really had no room for these two veterans, so the Rays get to reap the benefits. In what clearly is a rebuilding year, Tampa can afford to roll the dice on two players finding some of their lost magic because the price is right and risk is low. What’s more, if Ramirez rebounds with a strong season, the Rays will be in position to offer him arbitration (which would now be off a low base salary) and recoup a draft pick or two in the process.

Orioles reportedly come to tentative agreement with Vladimir Guerrero

Will Vlad be wearing orange on a full-time basis?

Orioles’ president Andy MacPhail has denied reports that his team has come to terms with Guerrero, but if true, the signing would be a perfect fit for the Orioles. After a down 2009, Guerrero bounced back in 2010, proving that the early reports of his demise were exaggerated. Whether or not Vlad can continue his resurgence is hard to say, but if he just maintains last year’s performance, the Orioles could be poised for one of the off season’s best bargains. Guerrero’s potent bat aiming at Camden Yards friendly power alley in left center would not only give the Baltimore lineup a much needed jolt, but help provide protection and guidance for young players like Matt Wieters and Adam Jones (although neither would be advised to adopt Vlad’s free swinging approach). Although the Orioles are an up-and-coming team, they are still unlikely to contend in 2011, so the idea of spending money and occupying a roster space with a veteran can have some downside. However, the time seems right for Baltimore to get more aggressive. They may not win the division for a few more years, but that doesn’t mean the team and its fans can’t have some fun along the way.

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The Yankees and Johnny Damon have reportedly discussed a return to the Bronx, but concerns over a lack of playing time have made the possible reunion unlikely.

Is Johnny Damon returning to the Bronx?

Although the Yankees are set in the outfield, the team’s bench has been severely depleted this offseason. Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns have already signed elsewhere, and Marcus Thames seems destined to the do the same. As a result, the Yankees have no depth, literally.

Not only do the Yankees lack a viable fourth outfielder, but they also do not have a capable bat to backup Jorge Posada in the DH role. Last season, Posada and the Yankees outfield trio of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher missed a collective 92 games. If that is repeated in 2011 (or if Posada is forced to go back behind the plate), the team will not only need to acquire another pitcher during the season, but another hitter as well.

Damon isn’t a perfect fit. His defense is below average and he swings from the left side (although he has developed into an above average hitter against southpaws). The ideal acquisition would be a right handed bat capable of playing plus outfield defense, but no such candidate remains on the market. Vladimir Guerrero swings from the right side, but he really shouldn’t even keep a glove in his locker anymore. In other words, Damon, although an imperfect solution, is really the Yankees last chance to add quality depth via free agency.

From Damon’s perspective, the idea of relinquishing an everyday role is probably hard to accept. However, it isn’t hard to figure out a scenario in which he would play 100 games. Still, that may not be enough for a player used to being in the lineup every game. Ultimately, Damon’s decision may be determined by which teams can offer him a starting position. If a competitive team like the Rays is able to promise him extensive playing time, his choice would be easy. If he is only able to find playing time on an uncompetitive team, however, Damon may eventually decide that a more limited role in a place that he enjoys is the better option.

As has been the case all offseason, the Yankees will need to exercise patience as Damon sorts through his options, but if a reunion is in the offing, the signing would be a rare example of moving ahead by looking back.

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