April 24, 2014

The Damon/Sizemore/Brantley Conundrum

And starting in left field for your Cleveland Indians, Johnny Damon…..

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:

Damon:

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

Sizemore:

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?

  • Hermie13

    Not sure what people expected the Tribe to do after signing Grady. Its hard enough getting a bat to come to Cleveland to be a starter….now you wanted to add a bench guy who could only play if Grady got hurt? The only types of players that would agree to that are your Spilbourghs, Pies, etc.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I think I have said this before, but again I will state that I could definitely see Kotchman/Duncan being more of the platoon situation at 1B and Damon playing almost full-time in left field.  Damon’s lack of arm strength is a legit concern, but thankfully Jacobs Field has a shallow left field when compared to other parks not named Fenway.

  • Brian Ristau

    I hate everything about this already, and it has nothing to do with Damon’s dead arm. If they wanted to keep Sizemore around- which MUST be mostly PR reasons- why not go out into the market when there are viable OFs available, THEN go after Grady, especially when we saw there was no market for Grady. 
    We sign him, do nothing else to get OF help and then the inevitable happened, yet we still made no moves until after the season starts. 
    Can Damon coming here possibly mean that we are not planning on Grady making it back on schedule?
    Would you believe 5 years ago if I told you that Grady would be at best a 4th outfielder at this point?

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    I think calling him a 4th outfielder may be going a bit overboard. He has talent, but as a lot of people including myself have argued, you can’t make that signing based on the inevitable DL stints. I understand WHY they offered him a deal, I don’t agree with the decision to do so though. I don’t disagree that PR played some sort of role in their decision.

  • cmm13

     “what if” the Indians hadn’t pursued Sizemore and were able to give that extra $5 million to Carlos Beltran.

    i’ve gone ahead and submitted this as the premise for the next “what if” commerical.

    it should begin it’s run in May.

  • mgbode

    I personally don’t believe Beltran ever gave serious consideration to signing with the Indians.

    Now, we likely could have given an extra $2-3mil to Carlos Pena.

  • LaundoMat

    Beltran was NOT going to come here. 

  • BisonDeleSightings

    Agreed.  That extra $5M would have only served as extra leverage for Beltran with the Cardinals.

  • EyesAbove

    God get over it, its not Grady’s fault. And the Indians were not “counting” on Grady, more like rolling the dice. They went after Willingham and Beltran among others to no avail. Cant put a gun to these players heads and force them to play here.

    And yes, mg nailed it, an extra 5 million to Beltran would have just given him more leverage with the Cardinals. He wasnt coming here unless the Indians grossly overpaid. And then TD would be upset when Beltran went to the DL because they paid 30 + million for an oft injured outfielder.

    What else could they have done? I’d love to hear some theories.

  • kjn

    Absolutely. Offering Beltran $5M more would have meant the Cards offering him $XM more. Guy did not want to come here.

  • kjn

    We should have used that extra $5M on a magic wand that would make Beltran/Pena want to play for a middle-of-the-road team with terrible weather rather than legit contenders. Magnus Maximus Signus Withus!

    For the millionth time – Grady was the best bad option. Stop blaming him and stop blaming the front office.

    I echo EyesAbove’s question – what could they have done?

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    They could have sat on that money, or they could have offered it on Pena and still been in the same boat but in better shape offensively (probably). And they really were counting on Grady. They have very few legitimate options in the outfield so they re-signed the guy, are you implying they assumed they wouldn’t get much out of him (hence not counting on him)? If so, why make the move at all?

  • EyesAbove

    The Grady thing, it was a 5 million dollar lottery ticket and they lost. It happens

    If they hadn’t spent that money on Grady they would have spent it on some other last chance former All Star, Guerrero, Abreu, Damon, whoever…. Unfortunately these are the risks that the Indians have to take.

    Ive heard the warmbody/anybody but Grady theory, they tried that too. Pie, Spillborghs, Cunningham, etc. Zeke is currently 7-32 without a walk at Columbus, should they handed him the center field job?

    It SUCKS, but what else could they have done?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I really don’t think Pena would have wanted to come here either based on the fact he took less money to resign with his former team the Rays.

    However, I for one am sick of hearing the excuse that players don’t want to come to Cleveland.  While it may be true what is being left out of that is why they don’t want to come to Cleveland.  It’s not the city, climate or less $$$ it’s the people running the teams who don’t know what they are doing.  It starts at the top and works it’s way down.

  • porckchopexpress

    I think Mohawk is a nice compromise between clean cut and mullet, thanks.  I knew this before but I can’t believe Damon is in the 3000 hit neighborhood.  He would probably need at least 3, probably 4 years of decent production to get there so its a long shot, but if he gets even closer he needs at least a conversation.  I’m not ready for that, I’ve spent my life knowing him as a good/very good player who was always surrounded by at least 2 hall of fame hitters.  He’s kind of like the Chris Bosh of baseball, nice stats but never “the guy” on any team.  That being said, he’s never had a whiff of steroid stink on him to my knowledge, and he played through the heart of that era, and having most of the afformentioned big bats around him being juiced.  I dunno, I think he’s an intersting debate when the time comes.

    Oh and I don’t think his signing with the Indians means anything, they’re going to be more than 10 games out by mid-june, the bats will “warm up” and maybe they’ll put together a little run through the all-star break get within 8 games then trade off Masterson for 5,000 blank bobbleheads that they will give away as a revolutionary new promotion where you get to choose from 8 face stickers to make your own bobblehead.  God I hate being down on them but the malaise is just settling in like dense fog.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Desperate times (five games into the season?) call for desperate measures!  The Indians have nothing to lose so why not.  At least they were smart enough to recognize they had a problem in the OF and did something, anything.  The Browns have known they’ve had a problem at WR and continue to do nothing.  In fact they say they are happy with the position. 

  • EyesAbove

     Same reason you buy a lottery ticket, its worth a shot. That 5 million wasnt going to make or break this team, and again it bears repeating Pena took less money to go back to Tampa. He didnt want to play here. How much money should they have thrown at Pena?

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    The offers were similar from what I’ve seen. If the drop in salary isn’t significant obviously TB is a much more attractive landing spot. As stated above another $2-3 million would have probably been hard to turn down.

  • EyesAbove

    Valid point and I dont doubt that the Tribe brass probably doesnt have the greatest rep among players. But even in the 90s when times were good, the Indians had trouble maintaining/signing free agents. No big names ever came here except the gray beard last chance guys (Murray, Hershiser, Martinez, Winfield, etc) and Robbie who wanted to play with his brother. Cleveland, generally speaking, is just not an attractive destination for free agents.

  • EyesAbove

     Im not convinced 10 million would have been enough with Florida’s lack of income tax, and I think going any higher would have been reckless. But I guess we’ll never know. I really got the impression that Pena just flat out didnt want to come here.

  • cmm13

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  • cmm13

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  • Hermie13

    Sounded like Beltran just didnt want to come to Cleveland as it wasnt the money he was chasing.

  • Hermie13

    Damon would only need 2 seasons (this year and next) to reach 3000. He has been consistently around 145-150 hits a year.

  • EyesAbove

    Im saddened that DJ dislikes my comment, but thats exactly why I didnt mention him, he was traded. Would he have signed as a free agent in his prime? Maybe, maybe not. But my whole point is that we had a hard time getting guys to come here willingly even when things were good. 

  • Steve

     Meaningless. Cleveland (and Toronto) both put up better offers for Beltran, who refused a trade to Cleveland last year. Tape this to your monitor to remind you every time you want to talk about Beltran “He wasn’t ever coming here”.

  • Steve

     Many free agents didn’t want to come to the Cavs, even when they had Lebron. The city, and its climate and reputation, are huge factors here.

  • Steve

    They were counting on Grady to be worth $5 million. Which, in today’s MLB, is a below average starting CF. He can still be that this year.