As everyone knows by now, the Johnny Damon carousel finally stopped spinning, and Damon signed a 1 year, $8 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.
Many Yankee fans are disappointed that Damon didn’t resign with the Yankees, especially after Damon claimed the Yankees were his first choice on numerous occasions. Equally disappointing, is hearing Damon make comments like “the Tigers were my first choice from Day 1,” which clearly cannot be true unless “Day 1” was “about a week ago.” There were even late reports as recently as a day or two before Damon signed saying he was trying to get the White Sox involved, because his wife wanted to go somewhere “more cosmopolitan.”
Now, it’s easy to call Damon a liar, but I honestly believe that, all things being equal, Damon really did want to go back to the Yankees. They’re perfect for him: they’re a contender with a friendly ballpark in a great city.
So does that mean Johnny is lying when he says he always wanted to be a Tiger? Well, depends on how you look at it. He always wanted to go to the best deal Scott Boras could get for him. That just happened to be the Tigers.
The big question though, is why would Damon allow Boras to manipulate his career? What I mean is, early on in the negotiations, the Yankees offered Damon a 2-year, $14 million deal that you could argue was a better offer than what he took with Detroit (more total money, though less per year). Boras never made a counter offer with the Yankees, partially because he was worried about Matt Holliday. If the Yankees signed Damon, then they would no longer be an option for the Yankees and without the Yankees looming, the Cardinals might not offer their best package.
The Yankees obviously moved on, but if Boras had come back with 2-years, and $16-17 million – undoubtably a better deal than Damon got – do you think the Yankees say no? Cashman already had said that Abreu’s 2-year $19 million deal had set the market, so it seems the Yankees were prepared to go to something in that ballpark (perhaps even as high as 2/20).
But Boras never countered. 1 year, $8 million. If Boras asks for that in December from the Yankees, Damon is signed immediately.
So Boras cost Damon the chance to be where he wanted and, in all likelihood, cost him some money. But here’s the thing: when Damon says this is where he wanted to be from “Day 1,” he really means with Boras. Sure, Boras cost Damon a few million right now as well as the chance to play with the team Damon wants. But over his career, Boras has made Damon a lot of money; in fact, he got him to New York to begin with.
When you sign with Boras, you’re accepting that, yes, you will generally get top-dollar, but sometimes you will have to sacrifice a bit for the Boras “big picture” of all his clients. I do wonder, in the long run, if Damon will be happy with his decision.
Let’s look at this deal though from the Tigers perspective: there is a very good chance that the Johnny Damon the Tigers are getting will be a decent but not great hitter and a poor defender. Damon’s road splits last year were not great (.284, .349, .446) despite getting a bit luckier on the road than at home (a BABIP of .330 versus .280). Damon’s power numbers on the road were particularly mediocre, as he hit only 7 HRs. Given the Tigers ballpark, 15 HRs next season would be optimistic.
Also problematic, given the Tiger’s large ballpark, is Damon’s outfield defense, which has drastically decreased each of the past 4 seasons. Damon still has speed, so he may perhaps be able to slow down his regression, but he will certainly never be a plus defender. This may not matter if the Tigers choose to use Damon at DH, but his road numbers suggest that Damon does not have the kind of bat you’d want in the DH slot.
Damon’s signing could help take pressure off of newly acquired Austin Jackson, though the Tigers still seemed determined to use Jackson at lead off – a terrible idea for a player who quite possibly still needs time at Triple-A based on his high strikeout totals.
Overall, the Tigers seem to have a lot of players who are either young and unproven or who are aging and poor defensively. Given their starting pitching, they will almost certainly be able to compete in the weak AL Central, but you have to wonder if trading away Granderson only to pay Damon more money will end up making sense for them in the long run.
In the end, the Yankees always made the most sense for Damon but when you follow Scott Boras, you negotiate by his rules.