Boras Somehow Gets Damon Solid Deal
Well, it looks like Scott Boras could win again. For weeks now, Boras has been ridiculed for misreading the market with client Johnny Damon. After coming off a successful four-year stint with the New York Yankees, Damon was hoping for a multi-year deal in the $20-million range. Refusing to rest on their laurels like many other reigning World Series champion clubs, the Yankees redirected their focus to other options when the free agent outfielder rejected a reported two-year, $14-million offer. The club eventually ended up signing talented designated hitter Nick Johnson, who boasted the highest on-base percentage of any free agent.
To many, Boras, perhaps out of conflict of interest, overvalued Damon’s market worth, winding up with egg on his face after New York called his bluff. After Johnson signed, it seemed likely that the popular leadoff man would have to settle for one year in the $5-million range. Indeed, the market for his services appeared to be minimal.
Not so fast, though. According to numerous sources, Boras may end up getting Damon two years, after all. Like he has done in the past, the super agent went directly to an owner, Mike Illitch of the Detroit Tigers, to make a pitch. And, similar to those prior efforts, the strategy has apparently worked. Jon Heyman tweeted tonight that the Tigers have offered a bit north of two years and $14-million. If accurate, it would be crazy for Boras and Damon to reject that proposal. With less than a week before spring training and only two other teams in the running, the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox, there is just no way that a better offer will develop before camp opens.
For that reason, it appears that Damon will be the new left fielder in Detroit. While the market has been cold to him, he is still a productive player, especially offensively. The 35-year-old veteran, in part due to the short porch at New Yankee Stadium, posted a line of .282/.365/.489 with 36 doubles, 24 home runs, 82 RBIs and 71 walks in 626 plate appearances in 2009. He also swiped 12 bags in as many chances while plating 107 runs at the top of one of the majors’ best lineups.
In all honesty, Damon was quite a productive player during his entire tenure in the Bronx. Indeed, he posted an impressive line of .285/.363/.458 after coming over from the Boston Red Sox. The one concern with him, of course, is his defense. His embarassingly poor arm strength gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so. His issues in left field, though, are a lot more than the function of a weak throwing arm. According to the metric Ultimate Zone Rating, in fact, he has graded out 17.1 runs below average in the field since he joined New York in 2006. Since the metric was introduced, he has cost his teams a combined 40.1 runs on the other end of the ball. About to turn 36, the defense is unlikely to improve anytime soon. In other words, he might be of better use to a team spending several games per week as a designated hitter at this point of his career. Given the defensive concerns, any hope for a deal longer than two years was unrealistic for both Boras and his client.
Despite the defensive concerns, though, Damon should help the Tigers a bit in the short term. Accounting for a near-certain regression moving away from a hitter’s ballpark, he should hit around .270/.350/.470 this upcoming season. However, sliding into the left field spot for Ryan Raburn, who will unfortunately be forced to move to the bench in that scenario, might not be such a great thing for the club. The new acquisition is certainly an upgrade, especially considering Raburn’s limited track record at the highest level. The improvement, however, is unlikely to be as much as many would think. Raburn had a tremendous second half for the Tigers in his own right during ’09, slashing .291/.359/.533 with 16 homers and a 128 OPS+—league average is 100—in 261 plate appearances Granted, the sample size was relatively small, but most leading projection systems peg him to post an OPS in the 800 range in 2010. He can definitely hit, and, while the scouting reports on his defense are not great, the pair may be a wash in the field.
Of course, the Damon signing does not guarantee that Raburn will be left out in the cold when it comes to at-bats. Magglio Ordonez, who objectively should have been released before his $18-million option kicked in, is on a steady decline. Though Ordonez is penciled in to start in right field and has the huge salary, the team could decide that he is a sunk cost if he gets off to another miserable start. His defense has been poor for two straight seasons—-8.4 runs below average during that time span—and his offensive output has dropped considerably for three straight years; granted, in 2007, he was among the most valuable hitters in the game, period. He will be given every chance to succeed, but Detroit might eventually cut him/look to dump his salary should it fall out of contention or feel that having Raburn in the lineup gives them a better chance to win.
Over at the Tigers’ official website, youngster Austin Jackson is penciled in as the starter in center field. Jackson, who came over to the club in the three-team blockbuster with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Yankees that sent Curtis Granderson packing, is a talented athlete, but no sure thing as a rookie. Considered the Yankees’ top position prospect not named Jesus Montero, he had a decent, but not great performance at Triple-A in ’09 that left some to be desired. He hit at a solid .300 clip, but he also struck out 123 times in 557 plate appearances (24.4 %) and offered little in power (four home runs, .105 Isolated Power) or walks (40). While Granderson had concerning platoon splits, Jackson will be a definite downgrade at the position. He should hit around .270/.340/.380 while offering decent defense in center field.
So, with Damon, Jackson and Ordonez as the penciled starters, the Tigers’ projected outfield is better today than it was yesterday. But, I am not crazy about the defensive alignment, and the club could be wasting an opportunity for one of its potentially most dangerous hitters, Raburn. Clete Thomas could also contribute. I would not mind Damon at one year, but two, especially in this climate, seems like a stretch even for a player of his caliber. Still, it was a decent move for the club, which still has significant ground to catch up with the on-the-rise Minnesota Twins.
What is most interesting to me, though, is that Boras got two years. He gets a lot of grief, and many were hoping to see him fail with Damon. And perhaps hel did, anyway, even if the Tigers do offer a bit more than the Yankees were willing to go. Since, if I were Damon, I would still rather be in Pinstripes, playing in a city that loves me with the best chance at another World Series title. But, seemingly up against it, Boras managed to get a surprisingly good deal for Damon. The mystery team man did it again, continuing to prove that he is damn good at his job. When will owners learn? Scott Boras is insanely smart.
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