Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Options for Johnny Damon

Who doesn't like Johnny Damon? From his former caveman ways to his faux hawk, choppy left-handed swing knocking out hit after hit to his noodle arm lobbing balls to cut-off men, he appeals to fans all through baseball. This offseason, like the last two, his appeal is, however, not reaching executives all through baseball. He and agent Scott Boras are struggling to find a guaranteed deal as Spring Training nears.
I think the man has value, and should hold value for a team long enough for him to reach 3,000 hits and secure an induction to the Hall of Fame. There's at least one skill he's lacking though that would ensure his employment until then. That's how to put on and competently use a first baseman's mitt. If he was more versatile, he would have more teams interested, since he's currently just a DH masquerading as a leftfielder occasionally.  In fact, I've found at least seven teams besides the Athletics, Yankees, and Orioles, that could use him if he was a little more than just a hitter, and they're listed in order of what makes most sense to those scenarios that seem more of a stretch.

  • Milwaukee Brewers - Odds are Ryan Braun serves his suspension to begin next year. Hole in LF for the first 50 games. Mat Gamel gets a chance to replace Prince Fielder at 1B. What if he struggles after extended exposure to major pitching? Hole at 1B after the first 50 games. If Gamel produces, then once Braun returns Damon could serve as the team's primary left-handed pinch-hitter or as trade bait.
  • Chicago Cubs - How about a Damon-Epstein reunion? Yes, the former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was once spurned by Damon when the rival Yankees signed the outfielder, but he tried a few years later to claim him from the Tigers. This may show the fences have mended and the two sides are amiable to a reunion, especially if Alfonso Soriano is somehow dealt. There's no way Damon would be worse in LF than Soriano, plus he could always take Bryan LaHair's spot at 1B if the career minor-leaguer fails to produce. The Cubs already face a lack of outfield depth as mentioned earlier.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers - The Dodgers are currently looking at some combination of Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn, and Jerry Hairston in LF. Somewhat underwhelming for a corner outfield spot. While Damon wouldn't provide a huge upgrade, he'd nevertheless still be an upgrade, allowing Rivera to platoon versus southpaws with James Loney (.561 OPS vs. LHP in 2011) at 1B instead of with Damon (.812 OPS). The bench currently consists of Matt Treanor, Adam Kennedy, Gwynn, and Hairston, so a fifth spot is technically open.
  • Cincinnati Reds - Two questions: First, would you take Denis Phipps over Damon? Second, who is Denis Phipps? Well he is the fifth and final outfield option on the Reds' 40-man roster. They currently have either Chris Heisey or Ryan Ludwick as the fourth outfielder, with Todd Frazier also having some experience out there. Out-of-options Juan Francisco has played limited innings in the outfield, so a Damon signing could make sense, as he'd give them a left-handed bat for LF and off a bench that currently consists of Heisey/Ludwick, Wilson Valdez, Ryan Hanigan, and Miguel Cairo.
  • Minnesota Twins -'s Rhett Bollinger recently projected the Twins' season-opening roster, and sees them carrying two catchers on the bench along with Trevor Plouffe and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (since Luke Hughes may start the season on the DL). One of those catchers, Ryan Doumit, may end up starting at DH, so Damon, as a DH and LF option, seems like a pretty good fit here. If injuries further hinder Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, even more at-bats at DH, LF, or even 1B would be available for Damon, a bonus for him and his quest for 3,000 hits and for a team trying to avoid a repeat as AL Central cellar dwellers.
  • Philadelphia Phillies - How settled are 1B and LF for the Phillies? John Mayberry deserves a shot at starting in LF, while it looks like Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome will try to hold down 1B for as long as Ryan Howard's injury keeps him out. Neither of those options seem to promising, though Mayberry does have experiencing manning first as well. If Howard's takes longer to return than expected, then perhaps Damon in LF with Mayberry at 1B gives Philadelphia the best lineup. That would also give them a bench of Thome, Wigginton, Laynce Nix, Brian Schneider, and Michael Martinez.
  • Atlanta Braves - How satisfied Atlanta is with their outfield situation? They have two spots cemented with Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward, but after that they have Martin Prado (recent trade bait), Matt Diaz (right-handed bat who had zero home runs last year, two less than Jose Constanza), Eric Hinske (whose best served as the team's primary left-handed pinch-hitter and backup 1B), and bat-licking Constanza, (smoke-and-mirrors minor-league journeyman who had some early success last year). While Damon wouldn't need to spend too much time playing first here, he would offer the team an answer for the two-hole in their lineup and allow them to trade Prado.

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