The Rays have two gaping holes in their current roster. One is at the first base position and the other is at the designated hitter role.
Most who know me know that I hate a full-time designated hitter. I think it is a waste of a roster spot unless that hitter is posting at least a wRC+ of 130 or higher. I would rather reserve the designated hitter role (I do not consider it a position), especially for a team that plays half of its games on turf, as a revolving door to give the players a rest.
Johnny Damon was the full-time designated hitter for the 2011 Rays and he posted a .261/.328/.416 line with a wOBA of .328 and wRC+ of 109. He was an above-average hitter and stole 19 bases but it was an underwhelming performance and one we did not expect from Damon who has not posted an OBP that low since 2001 when he posted a .324 OBP with the Oakland A's.
To me, it looked like Damon was pressing for the first 4+ months of the season, trying his hardest to put the ball in play and get that much closer to 3000 hits. His line from the start of the season to August 28th was .263/.313/.407 and he had a mere 33 unintentional walks in 535 plate appearances. That is a far cry from a player who had five consecutive seasons of walk rates at 10% or higher and came off of a career high 11.3% walk rate in 2010.
Damon's out-of-zone swing rate was 31.3% last year, eclipsing his career worst rate of 28.6% from the prior season and making his career mark of 21.6% look like an aberration. Not coincidentally his swinging-strike rate was a career worst at 8.1%, raising his career mark to only 6.0%. To be quite honest, the last person I wanted to see at the plate was Johnny Damon because he seemed to be reaching and hacking at pitches.
But, in a small sample size from August 29th until the end of the year Damon hit .250/.384/.477 with 17 unintentional walks in only 112 plate appearances. Was this just small sample size fate rearing its ugly head or was this Damon re-finding his approach and patience?
I honestly cannot answer that last question. There really are not a lot of viable options out there outside of dumpster diving and Damon, whether you place value in it or not, was a great clubhouse leader and perfect fit with the group of guys on the team.
At first glance I really did not want Damon back as a full-time designated hitter with the 2012 Rays but, after a longer look, if the Damon who surfaced in late August is the real Damon I would have no problem re-signing him to a one-year deal.