Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Johnny Damon to Yankees

Johnny Damon will become a Yankee once he puts his John Hancock on a 4-year $52 million contract. The Yankees' offer was $12 million more than what the Red Sox were offering and you can't find fault with a player for taking the larger contract (especially when the gap between the two contracts was so wide). I think the Red Sox may have made a mistake in not at least going to 4-years and $44 million as a sign of good faith but maybe they really didn't want Damon back.

Think about how the Red Sox handled these negotiations. They set the bar for Damon at 4-years and $40-million back at the winter meetings and then just dared any team to top it knowing full well that the Yankees in the end were sure to top that number. Now the Red Sox get to say that they tried to keep Damon in Boston but I think the truth is they helped usher him out the door.

This is a very good move by the Yankees. Damon makes them much better both offensively and defensively. His contract doesn't hurt them at all since his contract just replaces the $12.3 million they paid to Bernie Williams last year to play centerfield. Again I have to come back to why did the Red Sox allow Damon to slip away? What move do they have up their sleeves?

I have to believe that the Bill James led stats brigade were very aware that at age 32 - Damon is sure to be on the down slope of his career. Damon is a warrior and always plays hurt but when he plays hurt is he really helping the team? This year Damon was all banged up in the second half of the season and posted just a .343 OBP and a .740 OPS. Is that really worth $13 million a year?

So what do the Red Sox do now? In light of Damon's signing elsewhere - let me revisit the options to replace Damon:

1. Jeremy Reed of the Mariners. Supposedly the Mariners have asked for Bronson Arroyo 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 (does Carl Everett qualify as a big bat?). 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 or for Bronson Arroyo. Wilkerson had an off-year offensively last year but still managed a .351 OBP. His career OBP is .365 (Damon's career OBP is .353) and has averaged a HR once every 27.3 at bats (Damon has hit a HR once every 47.5 at bats for his career). Defensively - Wilkerson may not be able to run down as many balls as Damon but his arm is much better. I think adding Wilkerson would be about a wash compared to what Damon will accomplish the next few years and the Red Sox could wrap up Wilkerson for say 3-years at $20 million once they trade for him. I would be very happy if the Red Sox acquired Wilkerson (as long as it doesn't cost a Marte or Papelbon).

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.

I expect the Red Sox to act quickly to replace Damon because they are very public relations conscious. I do not expect Coco Crisp to be part of the equation. The Red Sox and Indians just don't seem to match up well as trade partners in my opinion (but as anyone who as followed my NFL picks knows - I'm wrong just as often as right).

Maybe I'm just cynical but how much do you want to bet that one of Damon's first acts as a Yankee will be to have a public shave and a hair-cut sponsored by some big name company (better not be Gillette) with the proceeds going to Steinbrenner's favorite charity?

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