If I were the Red Sox I would go to a 4-year, $44 million offer to Johnny Damon and no more. Damon says he wants to stay in Boston and at that price the Red Sox would be making more than a fair offer to keep him.
If Damon decides to sign elsewhere (most likely the Dodgers or Yankees) - the Sox will need to replace him in centerfield. Here are my top choices to replace Johnny Damon if Damon leaves Boston as a free agent.
1. Jeremy Reed of the Mariners. Supposedly the Red Sox have offered Matt Clement for Reed and I'd make that swap in a heartbeat. The Mariners can afford to lose Reed because they could move Ichiro to center and sign or trade for a big bat to play a corner outfield spot. Reed is young (just 24) and already is a Gold Glove caliber defender. Reed's offense will come in time. The Mariners need a pitcher and the Red Sox are carrying 7 starters.
2. Brad Wilkerson of the Rangers. The Rangers are another team in need of a starter and maybe the Red Sox could snag Wilkerson in exchange for David Wells and a prospect. The Rangers acquired Wilkerson in the Soriano trade but the fact that they don't even list Wilkerson on their depth chart could be an indication they plan to flip him to another team (although the depth chart thing is probably just laziness on the part of the Rangers IT staff since they still have Kenny Rogers listed at the ace).
3. Torii Hunter of the Twins. Hunter is coming off a pretty bad Achilles injury but if healthy - he is the best defensive centerfielder in the AL. Hunter is 30 and has 2-years remaining on his contract ($10.75 million in 2006 and a $12 million option in 20087). Hunter kills the ball at Fenway Park (career .342 batting average in 23 games) but would probably cost the Red Sox Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Youkilis to acquire. That's a price I'd be willing to live with because we do have some depth at starter and losing Youkilis would just mean Mike Lowell playing first and Andy Marte playing third. Hunter is the best player of the bunch but I'd just as soon not lose Kevin Youkilis (especially if Marte needs Tommy John surgery as has been rumored).
4. Mark Kotsay of the A's. He's 30-years old just like Hunter but he's got 3-years left on his contract (for $22 million plus). Maybe the Red Sox send Billy Beane David Wells in exchange and allow Beane to flip Wells for whatever prospects he can squeeze out of the West Coast teams.
5. Preston Wilson - free agent. The only free agent worth looking at and then only for a stop gap one-year contract. A final option to toss in here would be Jason Michaels of the Phillies who would be a stop gap solution as a starter but maybe would make a good 4th outfielder who can handle all three outfield positions. He'd probably cost a medium to top prospect to acquire.
As an aside - I keep finding myself typing Johnny Damon's name as Johnny Damn and if Damon signs with another team instead of the Red Sox - then Johnny "B" Damn(ed) will be his new permanent name in this space as far as I'm concerned.
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