News broke that the Indians and the 38-year old former All-Star outfielder/DH were working on a deal late Wednesday night. By Thursday afternoon, Damon went on Sirius/XM radio with former GM Jim Bowden and told the world he was excited about being an Indian, despite the fact that no announcement had come from the organization. Around dinner time in Cleveland, Super Agent Scott Boras and the GM Chris Antonetti came to terms and it became official – Johnny Damon is the newest member of the Indians.
As I wrote yesterday, I am down with the move. The offense is currently the worst in baseball and is in dire need of any sort of help. Nobody doubts Damon’s bat despite the fact that on April 10th he was still looking for a team. Boras and Damon will tell you that they were just waiting for the right fit, which may or may not be true. Damon wasn’t going to go somewhere and be a bench guy; he wants 450-500 plate appearances and was willing to wait for them. He may not get to that number with the Tribe, but he will certainly get regular playing time in left field and occasionally at DH.
Boras and Damon did lose some bargaining power when they sat for as long as they did. All it took was one desperate team, and that is exactly what the Indians are. But when I saw the terms of the deal, I had to think that the Indians came out ahead.
Damon’s base salary for the one year deal is $1.25 million. He can make an additional $1.4 million in incentives. The contract is eerily similar to the structure of the deal for the guy who set this desperation signing in motion, Grady Sizemore.
I will say this until I am blue in the face, the Indians were put in the position of going after Damon because they made the mistake of counting on Sizemore and didn’t bring in any real alternatives to cover their own behinds if something had happened to their oft-injured center fielder.
Sizemore’s deal, signed very quickly in November, is for $5 million guaranteed with another $3 million possible in incentives; incentives that he now has no chance of reaching. Meanwhile, they could have gone after Damon and potentially gotten him for $2.5-$3 million guaranteed around that same time frame. Maybe my speculation is nuts. We are talking about Scott Boras after all, a guy who is notorious for letting his free agents sit on the sidelines until January and wait for one team to break the bank for his players (see Fielder, Prince). In the instance of Damon in 2012, Boras may have overplayed his hand and Damon was bought on the cheap by the Tribe a week into the season.
SIDE NOTE – According to Peter Gammons of the MLB Network, the “opt-out” clause that was originally reported, is more of a “handshake deal” between Damon and Antonetti. If he isn’t getting the at-bats here, Antonetti will cut him loose so he can get PT somewhere else. I just can’t see that happening.
But at this point, other than defensively where Sizemore is far superior, you can make the case that Damon is the better player, even with the nine-year age difference. You’d also have to say that Damon offers more right now than the guy who was supposed to open the season in left, Michael Brantley, though Brantley is much, much younger and is still developing as a player.
Damon has played 141 games or more for the last 16 years. Sizemore has averaged 70 games played in the last three while needing six different surgeries for a sports hernia, two bad knees, and now his back. He hasn’t been a real factor since 2008 (33 homers, 90 RBIs, 38 steals) which at this point is a long time ago. In 2008, the Tribe still had CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
Look at the offensive numbers of both the last three seasons:
Age 35 2009 – 143 games/.282/.365/.854/24 HR/82 RBI/12 steals
Age 36 2010 – 145 games/.271/.355/.756/.8 HR/51 RBI/11 steals
Age 37 2011 – 150 games/.261/.326/.743/16 HR/73 RBIs/19 steals
Age 26 2009 – 106 games/.248/.343/.788/18 HR/64 RBIs/13 steals
Age 27 2010 – 33 games/.211/.271/.560/0 HR/13 RBIs/4 steals
Age 28 2011 – 71 games/.224/.285/.706/10 HR/32 RBIs/0 steals
Damon keeps himself in great shape and doesn’t go on the DL. Sizemore hasn’t been able to stay off the DL. Interestingly, they can both co-exist if Sizemore can actually make it back in mid-June/Early July from his back surgery. As much as I want Brantley to succeed, he is now on the clock for 2012. If Damon arrives and puts up similar numbers to what he did last season in Tampa Bay and isn’t the defensive liability in left that we all worry he could be (teams will run on his every single chance they get as they have for the last three/four years), then you obviously want to keep his bat in the lineup. The Indians brass and many Indians fans still have stars in their eyes at what Grady once was. If he shows he is moving well on a rehab stint before he comes back, Brantley could become the odd man out and end up roaming center field in Columbus this summer.
I know, lots of “ifs.”
Brantley is the future in either center or left field for the Indians and the truth is they cannot afford to have be a failure, considering as we’ve said earlier, they’ve got nothing to look to in AAA and AA.
So Damon is in the fold, Brantley is on notice, Shelley Duncan is back to being a platoon guy, and Sizemore will allegedly return sometime in June or July. I can’t help but wonder “what if” the Indians hadn’t pursued Sizemore and were able to give that extra $5 million to Carlos Beltran. Would that have given the Tribe, the alleged bridesmade to the Cardinals, the money advantage for Beltran? Would we be in this predicament today, counting on a 38-year old free agent to kick-start the moribund offense a week into the season?