Tag: Johnny Damon

Johnny Damon

Johnny Damon still wants to play baseball


Johnny Damon is now 40 years old and didn’t play in 2013, but he has yet to fill out the paperwork to end his 18-year Major League career. In fact, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports, Damon would be willing to report to spring training if an interested team would like to bring him on board.

Boras said he asked Damon to let him know when he was all done. So far, Boras hasn’t heard those words from Damon, meaning Damon would love to resume his career after missing last season. Damon has remained in shape and would be willing to hook on if someone called.

Damon wrapped up the 2012 season with a career-worst .610 OPS as a member of the Indians. Only a few teams, including the Yankees and Astros, feigned interest in signing Damon in the off-season. As a result, he ended up watching the 2013 season from home. This seems to be the off-season of comebacks, though –Mark Mulder and Chone Figgins are two examples — so don’t write off Damon entirely yet.

Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury signing to pay big dividends… for now

Jacoby Ellsbury

The Yankees are betting big that Jacoby Ellsbury will age well in his thirties.

They’re betting big that he’s not injury-prone and that his two season-ruining injuries were flukes.

They’re betting big that his power will come back with Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right serving as such a tempting target.

They’re betting big that Alex Rodriguez’s suspension will be upheld and his 2014 salary will be off the books.

I’m not sure about No. 4, but the first three, at least, look like pretty good bets to me. It’s true that Ellsbury went to just one All-Star Game in his twenties, but he nearly won the MVP that year and he was plenty good in three other seasons besides. He has a .350 career OBP, and he’s the game’s best basestealer. He should age well; the speed guys usually do. Maybe not seven years, $153 million well, but he’ll be worth the $22 million for the next few years anyway.

The back half of the contract is a concern, as it usually is. Ellsbury has never been a particularly instinctual outfielder, but in his twenties, he was always able to outrun his mistakes and he graded out as an above average center fielder as a result. Eventually, that’s going to change. Yankee fans should already know how that goes, having witnessed the declines of Bernie Williams and Johnny Damon in center field. Ellsbury will finish the contract as a left fielder and, much like Damon, he may turn out to be a liability even there as his speed goes.

But that’s not a concern for 2014. For now, he’s a second borderline All-Star added to the Yankees order, joining Brian McCann. He’ll bat leadoff, with Brett Gardner likely dropping to the ninth spot. A Gardner-Ellsbury-Ichiro outfield should be one of the game’s best defensively.

The Yankees are far from done, too. It’s still likely that they’ll re-sign Robinson Cano, though probably not for less than $200 million. They’ll add pitching. They may end up paying the luxury tax again even if A-Rod’s $27.5 million disappears. It may not be enough to overtake the Red Sox, but they won’t go down so quietly again.

Let’s not overstate the impact Yankee Stadium will have on Brian McCann

Brian McCann AP

As soon as the Yankees’ signing of free agent catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract was announced, the projections started rolling in. “McCann will hit 35-40 HRs with Yankee Stadium as home ballpark,” tweeted David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Others were less bold, suggesting 35 as a ceiling for the former Brave.

It makes sense at first glance. Yankee Stadium is 314 feet down the right field line, a feature of the park that has turned a catchable deep fly ball in 29 other parks into a fourth-row dinger. According to Statcorner, Yankee Stadium allowed home runs to left-handed hitters at a rate 16 percent higher than average. It was even more garish in 2012, when Statcorner pegged Yankee Stadium at 46 percent above the league average. In 2011, it was 45 percent; 39 percent in 2010; and 14 percent in 2009. As Keith Law noted in Saturday’s column, “Sixteen of his 20 homers in 2013 were to dead right field, as were 15 of his 20 bombs in 2012.” And that was playing half his games in the comparatively much more pitcher-friendly Turner Field.

Since the new Yankee Stadium opened up in 2009, however, a Yankee has crossed the 30-homer plateau just eight times. Two were by Curtis Granderson (43, 41), three were by Mark Teixeira (39, 39, 33), one by Robinson Cano (33), and two by Alex Rodriguez (30, 30). Alfonso Soriano could also join the list if you count his 17 as a Cub and 17 as a Yankee. But with that list, you have only two natural left-handed hitters (Granderson, Cano), a switch-hitter (Teixeira), and two right-handers (Rodriguez, Soriano). About as even a split as you can get.

The lack of left-handed hitters to hit 30 or more homers hasn’t been for a lack of trying. They’ve had Hideki Matsui, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, and Travis Hafner, just to name a handful. Matsui hit 25 home runs as a Yankee in 2007. Swisher hit 36 as a member of the Athletics in 2006. Damon hit 24 in 2006. Ibanez hit 34 in 2009 with the Phillies. Hafner has more of an excuse as he hasn’t been a solid regular since 2007 but he hit 42 in 2006 with the Indians. If the short porch in right field is such a friend to lefties, why have only two lefties and one switch-hitter accomplished the feat in the five years of the stadium’s existence?

Let’s try some theoretical math. On FanGraphs, the Steamer projection system pegged McCann at 20 home runs prior to moving to the Bronx. If we buy that projection as realistic, and assume that 60 percent of his home runs (12) will come at home and 40 percent on the road (eight), even boosting the numbers by the highest Statcorner park factor listed above (45 percent), that would only put McCann at 25 home runs. (8 on the road + (12 home + (12 * 0.45 ))) Even if all 20 of McCann’s home runs were hit at home and we boost that by the 45 percent park factor, he only comes in at 29. It’s possible the 20-homer projection is low, but even after the most generous math, McCann still comes in under 35 home runs.

McCann solves a very obvious problem for the Yankees, and he solves it very well. His contract wasn’t outrageous, and he should be productive for them at least for the first few years of the deal. But let’s not overstate how much McCann will benefit from Yankee Stadium. It’ll help, but it won’t be his Popeye’s spinach.

The Rays will use a DH rotation

Rays logo

Edgar Martinez’s and David Ortiz’s Hall of Fame cases often get bogged down in “they’re only part-time players” and “anyone can just DH” arglebargle.

But when you look around you realize that there are fewer and fewer guys who can make the full-time DH thing work. Indeed, there are 15 teams who use a DH most games but only five guys qualified for the batting title out of the DH position in 2013. And one of them was Adam Dunn for cryin’ out loud.

Yep, the days of the dedicated DH seem to be dwindling. And you can add the Rays to the list of teams which have decided to go with DH-by-committee rather than just give the job to some hitter who is too creaky or too clunky to field any longer. Here’s Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune:

Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at last week’s general managers meetings that his team could employ a four-man rotation through the DH spot in 2014 with Matt Joyce and David DeJesus as the left-handed half of that quartet and Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings swinging from the right side.

Makes sense after several years of the Pat Burrell/Johnny Damon/Luke Scott parade. Which at times was OK — mostly from Scott — but was not so good that it was worth dedicating a roster spot. Playing platoons and keeping guys fresh with this rotation is bound to provide way better production at way better cost than almost anything else the Rays could do about the DH spot this winter.

Brian McCann’s free agency is everything wonderful/terrible about free agency

Crols Gomez Brian McCann

Free agents can sign anywhere as of midnight last night, and one of the biggest free agents on the market is Brian McCann. And for good reason: he’s a good catcher who can hit a ton. What’s not to like? Many teams, including the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers will be after him. He’s going to make bank.

Of course his free agency is also going to bring two free agency memes that I have grown to love in some twisted way. The first one is on display in this Daily News story:

McCann’s agent, B.B. Abbott, said Monday that the Bronx is “certainly a place that is on Brian’s radar. How could it not be? You’ve got an historic franchise and a great park, knowledgeable fans and a chance to win, which is what every guy plays the game for. From Brian’s standpoint, it would be an attractive place to listen to.”

That’s actually pretty strong as far as these sorts of endorsements go, likely because Abbott knows that the Yankees will be bidders. But it’s also a species of public comment about free agents we often see this time of year, and which often leads to fan and talk radio craziness.

In essence, it’s a player or his agent saying true, non-controversial things about a city because, really, what else does one say? Yet whenever someone says something fairly benign like this, it’s taken as some strong signal that the player is seriously, seriously interested. Indeed, anything short of “[city] is a cesspool” launches free agent chatter about this player being “linked” to that city. It’s right up there with “[Player X] will sign with [Team Y] because he grew up nearby.” Which rarely happens with top free agents.

By the way: Scott Boras can be annoying, but he’s also pretty brilliant. He was aware of this meme years ago, which is why he can usually be found saying things about his clients and certain cities. Remember when Johnny Damon liked calamari? That was to get Detroit people chattering and, hopefully, to make Detroit’s front office feel fan pressure.  If Abbott is wise, he’ll come out tomorrow talking about how much McCann likes chowder. The good kind, that is. Not that tomato-y crap.

The other thing I bet we’ll see at the end of McCann’s free agency is The Great Fan Turn. You know what I’m talking about: when a player who is loathed for some reason is suddenly seen in an entirely new light the moment he appears in his new team’s uniform. We’ll see it with McCann, I can bet you a million bucks. The same fans who made fun of McCann’s antics and yelling during the Carlos Gomez and Jose Fernandez home runs — the people who mocked him and forwarded Photoshops of McCann yelling during great moments in history — will suddenly come around to McCann’s “passion.” They’ll have some newfound perspective about it all, and will come to appreciate his fire.

And, of course, Braves fans who got all bent out of shape when people criticized McCann will begin to proclaim that they always really kinda hated that guy.

Which is fine. It’s sports and that’s how sports and sports fans roll. We’re irrational and we root for laundry and we can be talked into almost anything and anyone if they’re on our team. We may pretend we’re more objective about it — the folks who see McCann in a new light after he signs his contract will mostly claim that they’ve thought about it more rather than felt something visceral once he put on their teams cap at a press conference —  but after writing about sports and interacting with sports fans for seven years, the thing I am the most confident of is that the single most predictive piece of data for one’s position on any given issue in sports is what team one roots for.

So bring on the free agent rumors and signings. And bring on the fan reactions. All of it ads to the fun and chaos of the hot stove season.

Follow @craigcalcaterra