Now that Milton Bradley is a Seattle Mariner, we need a new rumor to keep our hot stove burning. Ken Davidoff was nice enough give us a little branch to throw on the fire. In his baseball insider column, he mentions that Johnny Damon has turned his attention from re-signing with the New York Yankees to signing elsewhere. Where does Damon prefer to go? Davidoff lists the following teams as Damon's "top three choices": Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and...the Tampa Bay Rays. Say what?
While Damon may prefer the Rays, the pairing doesn't seem likely; in his column, Davidoff admits as much. I'm not sure the Rays would even discuss the possibility until Pat Burrell was moved first.. Nonetheless, it's the hot stove. It's Andrew Friedman. And as Kevin Garnett pointed out a few years ago, anything is possible.
Talent-wise, Damon would be a nice addition to the Rays. He is perennial 2.5-3 WAR player and his average wOBA over the last four years is a stellar .362. He is also American League East proven having spent the last eight seasons in baseball's best division. He takes his walks. He doesn't strikeout much, and he has some decent pop. I do believe his 2009 career high .207 ISO is largely due to his home ballpark, but his career .150 ISO shows there has always been some power. In the previous three years Damon hit .286/.362/.448 where as last year he hit .282/.365/.489.
While his stolen bases dipped down to 12 (his lowest since his rookie season of 1995 in which he only played 45 games), Damon remains an above average base runner. Thanks to my free copy of the 2010 Bill James Handbook supplied by Acta Sports, I found that the league average for moving from first base to third on a single was 26.8%. Damon's rate was nearly 41% (13/32). He also scored on a single from second base around 66% of the time. For comparison, arguably our smartest/best base runner, Jason Bartlett, scored 43% of the time. Note: small sample size.
The talent is not an issue. Where Damon would play and how much he would command are both issues. For these reasons, a deal is not likely to happen. Once upon a time, Damon was a pretty decent center field; however, those days are long gone. In his current form, Damon has been sneaking by as a left fielder. Obviously, left and center field are not options here, and his noodle arm would not fit in right field. DH is the only option and currently the Rays have one of those. That said, if he Damon's market crashes and he becomes an absolute bargain, we can worry about positions later.
Damon has reportedly moved on from the Yankees because the two sides couldn't agree on terms. Most reports say a two-year time frame was acceptable for both. The Yankees offer was reportedly tw-years/$14 million, but Damon's agent, Scott Boras, is set to be asking for over $10 million annually. I don't even have to explain why that wouldn't work here*.
Much like other veterans nearing the end of their road, who have offered their services to the Rays (Ken Griffey, Gary Sheffield, etc.), I think the Rays will dash Damon's hopes and take a pass unless the price is just too good to pass up. If Damon is still sitting on the market in late-January, and lowers his demands a la Bobby Abreu in 2009, then count me in.
*Before it comes up...trading Carl Crawford for prospects, and turning around and signing Damon would cost the team roughly one, maybe two wins in 2010 while providing no salary relief. So, no.