Larry Mahnken and SG's

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog

"Hey, it's free!"

The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has moved!  Our new home is:

Larry Mahnken
Sean McNally
Fabian McNally
John Brattain

This is an awesome FREE site, where you can win money and gift certificates with no skill involved! If you're bored, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out!


Disclaimer: If you think this is the official website of the New York Yankees, you're an idiot. Go away.

December 21, 2005

by SG

My first reaction to the Johnny Damon signing was purely emotional, and not very meaningful in a baseball sense. After spending the last four seasons watching him patrol CF for the Yankees' biggest rival, it was difficult for me to separate a man I associate with the Red Sox now donning Yankee pinstripes. I will now attempt to remove my emotion from this signing to look at it as a pure baseball move.

The Yankees had a huge, gaping hole in CF. Contrary to what some people believe, Bubba Crosby was not going to be the answer. It's very possible he could have filled the hole defensively, but he's never really hit that well in the minors aside from a half season in Las Vegas, and at age 29 is not likely to get much better. Other options like Kevin Thompson and Kevin Reese, while cheap and on-hand, would have required an amount of risk that the Yankees typically do not employ.

The Yankees continue to have very little to offer in trades at the major league level, and not much to offer at the minor league level either. While the idea of trading the disappointing Carl Pavano and part of his salary was interesting, it was either just idle speculation or something that did not interest the Yankees. Targets like Jason Michaels, while intriguing, were not going to be cheap to acquire, and were uncertain propositions as well.

The free agent market at CF was very thin, with Damon the best of a middling bunch. The trade market was pricey, with even middling players like Juan Pierre commanding three prospects in salary dump trades.

The Yankees had a decision to make. Carry the biggest payroll in the league with perhaps the worst CF in the league, or spend money, which they have plenty of, on a player who fills their biggest hole. Damon got more money than he will be worth, I don't think even the most optimistic projection of his time in New York will disagree with that. However, he's still just 32, he still rates as a plus defensive player by most defensive metrics, and is still a fine hitter for a CF.

Damon cost the team money. He did not cost them prospects, which is important. The Yankees are a stronger team in 2006 and 2007 because of this signing, and the Red Sox are probably weaker. They have a hole in center that they will have to fill now, and will have to give up talent to do it. I just hate the fact that the Yankees could have had a superior player in Carlos Beltran last season for similar money, and chose not to spend it, but are willing to spend it now.

Damon has some troubling splits. At Yankee Stadium over his career in about 300 PA, he's hit .252/.301/.346. This could just be a function of facing the Yankees pitching staff, but it doesn't inspire confidence. In his career at Fenway he's hit .311/.383/.438 for an OPS of .821, and everywhere else it's .284/.342/.430 for an OPS of .771.

Contrary to the mediot popular opinion, Damon is not a better leadoff hitter than Derek Jeter. He gets on base less frequently, he didn't walk as frequently, and he does not even see the same number of pitchers per plate appearance. Last year, Jeter saw an average of 3.82 P/PA, Damon saw 3.72. However, Damon adds a better player to the overall Yankee lineup, which strengthens the bottom of the order significantly. As it stands now, the potential Yankee lineup looks like this:

CF Damon
SS Jeter
1B Giambi
3B Rodriguez
LF Matsui
RF Sheffield
2B Cano
C Posada
DH ???

I would like to see the Yankees get a good corner OF who can play LF and RF, and perhaps the occasional 1B, which would allow them to spell Giambi, Matsui, and Sheffield at DH. While it'd be nice to add someone like Bobby Abreu, I'm not sure he's a possibility given the asking price. There's not much available on the free agent market, but perhaps a trade for someone like Jason Michaels would still make sense.

At the end of the day, we root for laundry. I can't fathom cheering for Damon right now, but I learned to cheer for Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens. It's possible. I'm sure Larry will provide his opinion soon, and I know he likes this move more than many of us.

Update: Dan Szymborksi has posted a ZiPS projection for Damon at Yankee Stadium next year:

606 108 177 27 6 13 82 62 67 18 .292 .357 .421

Color me unimpressed.