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Tag: Johnny Damon

Old Friends Are Best

Six years ago if you’d told me Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon would, in 2011, both sign relatively inexpensive one-year contracts with the Tampa Rays, it would have been jarring. Really, it’s still a bit jarring. Time and change come to us all, yet it’s odd to think how quickly yesterday’s superstars become today’s late-offseason bargains: Manny Ramirez made $20,000,000 last year, and last week he signed for $2,000,000. He didn’t get old overnight, but he started getting paid like an old player overnight. He is still only 38.

The real winners of this move are the few, the proud, the Tampa beat writers and columnists, whose clubhouse just got about 12 times more interesting: Damon is outgoing and easy to talk to and always sticks around to offer goofy quotes, and for a player who rarely talks to the media, Manny manages to provide plenty of material. Not that either new acquisition is destined to be useless, by any means. Damon had quite a lousy 2010, by his standards, but still produced more than the average left fielder, and is a clever enough hitter that he’ll be finding his hits here and there even after his bat speed and power deteriorate further; Manny fell off too, but I wouldn’t want to see him up against my team in the late innings with the game on the line, and I doubt too many pitchers would either. With that said, Damon was, even four or five years ago, not the best fielder- I remember bleacher fans at the Stadium joking about his “perfect 20-hoppers to first” – and hasn’t gotten better with wear and tear, which means right-handed visiting hitters may find their BABIP getting a nice boost in Tampa next year. Manny, of course, will probably not be seen in the outfield unless he jogs out there to urinate between innings.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Damon is getting paid more than twice as much as his brother-in-hair, even though he’s nowhere near twice as good a player as Ramirez, and just one year younger; I can only assume that Manny’s positive steroid test played a role, and perhaps the lingering ill-feeling after his acrimonious breakup with Boston (where he was more or less accused, at various times, of faking or exaggerating an injury, missing spring training to make promotional appearances, and shoving an elderly traveling secretary to the ground). When I mentioned these signings to a friend, her first thought was that Tampa might be looking for veteran leadership on their young team, and she wondered if it was really a good idea to have Manny try and full that role. But I don’t think any team’s management would view Man-Ram as that kind of figure, although you could do a lot worse that having young players watch the way he hits. I think he’s there for his pop, as well as his talents as a box-office draw and attention grabber. I have a hard time imagining that he won’t give the Rays their $two million’s worth.

For more analysis check out Jay Jaffe over at Pinstriped Bible, talking about how the additions of Damon and Ramirez give the Rays flexibility. I know it’s way too early to surmise anything, but on this frigid winter day I’m not loving the Yankees’ odds against Tampa or Boston.


And speaking of old friends… Bill Clinton had dinner in Miami last week with Alex Rodriguez and Cameron Diaz. While none of those people are on my “If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be?” list, I have to admit that, like the nymag.com headline, I’m curious about what they might have talked about. Other than “so, being incredibly rich: pretty cool, eh?”

Even the Best Laid Plans…Blow the F*** Up

Well, sometimes you make a plan and while it might not be popular, you stick by the plan, you lay low, and then…you blow it all up. The Angels have been criticized this winter for not doing enough, but last night they went out and traded for Vernon Wells. Not just that, they are picking up the rest of his seemingly unmovable contract. MLB Trade Rumors collects some reactions to the deal; Hardball Talk has more.

What was it P.T. Barnum was supposed to have said?

Closer to home, old pals Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have agreed to join the Rays. At least it’ll be fun to see them around more often this season.

'Member Me?

Kibbles n Bits.

Take Two and Pass

It seems like Johnny Damon will stay with the Tigers. Up in Boston, Dan Shaughnessy doesn’t understand why.


What Will Johnny Do?

Go back to Boston? Thomas Wolfe said you can never go home again, though Boston was never really Damon’s home, just the most-celebrated stop of his career. On the other hand, Damon was an army brat, so who knows? I assume he’ll end up back at the Fens when all is said and done here, though I’d be amused if he stayed with the Tigers.

Rays manager, Joe Maddon, hopes Damons stays put as well.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

There were some hard feelings and ugliness in last night’s game. Pitchers throwing at hitters, umpires issuing warnings and then sitting on their hands.

According to John Lowe in the Detroit Free Press:

As usual, Leyland refused afterward to take reporters’ questions about an umpiring controversy. However, the Internet buzzed with something he told Cooper after the Cabrera plunking that was picked up on the FSD telecast: “They’re going to the playoffs. We’re not going anywhere. Somebody is going to get hurt.”

Johnny Damon was not happy about Brett Gardner’s hard (and late) takeout slide on Monday night. Brian Costello reports:

“If anyone over there thought it was a clean slide, then we have a different opinion on that,” said Damon, who spent four years as a Yankee. “It’s part of baseball. But I thought the slide was dirty, and I’m sure a lot of those guys would agree.”

Gardner would not say if he thought Bonderman intentionally hit him, and he was surprised to hear Damon criticized him.

“That’s his opinion,” Gardner told The Post. “He knows how I play. I think if he was over here in this clubhouse he probably would have given me a high-five for trying to break up the double play.”

Things could get hot today. Let’s hope nobody gets hoit.

Max the Pain, Hide the Tears

Open skies! Pour forth your cleansing draught. Purify this field, this team, this season. Wash away age and rust. Leave gleaming life where spread decay and rot. And quietly, gently carry away the dead in your bubbling floodwaters. Give us the promise of a new day, with blazing sun, clean slate and the hope of…

What’s that? It stopped raining? Oh crap, they kept playing.

Javy Vazquez discharged pus for 105 pitches through four innings and made Sergio Mitre’s appearance a welcome sight. Until the ninth, the Yanks best offense was either a dropped pop-up or Francisco Cervelli’s feeble attempt to drive in the tying runs in the seventh (Granderson did have three hits, but batting in front Cervelli nullifies anything but a home run)

Just as Cervelli was failing in the seventh, Tampa was mounting a gutsy, late-inning comeback against Cliff Lee, the blazing sun, to settle the Rays into a first place tie in the AL East. They needn’t feel claustrophobic sharing the penthouse, the Yanks won’t be staying there long playing like this.

The ninth inning deserves its own paragraph. After Miguel Cabrera padded the lead to a really daunting 3-0, Valverde completely lost the strike zone and walked Cano, Cervelli and Gardner (none of them even took the bat off their shoulders) around one of Granderson’s singles. Derek Jeter’s season-long battle with his strike-zone judgment and weak ground balls reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. Instead of simply not swinging, he flailed at a 2-1 pitch out of the zone that would have made the count 3-1, and then tapped weakly into a game ending double play (amazing turn by Carlos Guillen) after the count ran full. By simply not swinging, I bet he would have walked and given the Yanks a real shot an undeserved victory.

Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher left the game with injuries. It seems the Yankees are really going to attempt to win the World Series with only a couple of guys having decent seasons. Color me skeptical. In losing to the reeling Tigers 3-1, they looked like a tired, broken-down mess.

After a herky-jerky motion Max Scherzer issues sick stuff from odd angles, so given the current state of the Yankee offense, he presented an insurmountable challenge. So much so that I was happy to see Curtis Granderson get a hit early, dispelling the very real chance of being no-hit. They looked slightly more comfortable against the bullpen, though they couldn’t break through until Valverde walked the park. As it was, that’s back-to-back games with eight total hits and one run. I ask that I be relieved of recapping duties until the Yankees produce a double-digit victory.


Lip Service

Is Ted Berg the new Ted Baxter?

And is Johnny Damon a rootin’, tootin’, pop-gun shootin’ chickenhawk?

Yankee Panky: Can’t Winn For Losing

Last week’s signing of Randy Winn was met with a thud the likes we haven’t heard since the Road Runner was leading Wile E. Coyote off of cliff after cliff. The reaction appeared to have little to do with the clusterf— that proved to be the back-and-forth hearsay between Brian Cashman and Scott Boras regarding Johnny Damon. No, it was more that the Yankees actually committed a seven-figure dollar amount to, well, Randy Winn, and didn’t loosen the waistband for the once Unfrozen Caveman Outfielder.

Some of us are still trying to wrap our brains around the pretzel logic that led to the release of a soon-to-be 36-year-old who, despite his defensive foibles, has a stroke tailor made for the New Yankee Stadium and is a perfect fit for the Yankee lineup, only to sign a soon-to-be 36-year-old who is, um, Randy Winn.

There was a great deal of rancor in the Yankeeland Blogosphere in the days following the Winn deal. Over at the Yankeeist, Larry Koestler, a friend to the Banter (well, this Banterer, anyway) likens the Winn acquisition to that of Tony Womack:

Randy Winn…may have at one time been a reasonable ballplayer, but that was back when Honus Wagner was suiting up for the Buccos. I know he’s coming aboard as the fourth outfielder/platoonmate, but sweet Jesus we’d have been better off flushing the money directly down the toilet. It would’ve taken what — an extra $3-$4 million to get Damon back into the fold? We couldn’t do that, but we could spend a third of the presumed cost of Damon on an absolute and utter complete waste of space like Winn? Better to have let Gardner at least try to hold the position down — I’m not even much of a Gardner fan but I’d still rather Grit in there every day than waste any at-bats on the second coming of Wilson Betemit.

Honestly, Brian Cashman knows better than this. Signing Randy Winn and his sub-.700 OPS in 2009 for any amount is craziness. It doesn’t make any sense nor fit with the Yankees’ work-the-pitcher, high-OBP MO.

Oh, but it gets better. The New Stadium Insider notes that Winn was the last straw in pushing a certain 2009 season ticket holder to the point of canceling his plans to upgrade in 2k10.

Backtracking a bit to Koestler’s item, it’s important to note that earlier in the piece, he shows startling similarities between Winn’s weighted on-base average over the past four seasons, and Womack’s during the last four years of his career. Combining Winn and Brett Gardner, you basically have the same skill set (.325 OBP, .700 OPS, etc.). In other words, two people providing replacement-level numbers. Not good if you’re banking on Curtis Granderson summoning his 2007 self and Nick Swisher repeating his regular-season production of last year.

Maybe left-field should be considered an afterthought. Consider that when the Yankees went on their dynastic tear in the late 1990s and early part of the oughts, left field featured the All-Star cast of Gerald Williams, Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, Ryan Thompson, Chuck Knoblauch, Rondell White, and Juan Rivera. The Yankees made six World Series trips in eight years with that motley crew because the other eight members of the lineup were able to make up for whatever deficiencies existed by the 399 sign. This Yankee team is good, but is it good enough to overcome left field, the unknowns of Granderson and Swisher, and despite their productivity, the ever-increasing age of Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter?

Perhaps a more apt comparison to this year’s left field situation is the right field situation of 2002, when a noncommittal Joe Torre rolled out a combination of Spencer and the inimitable John Vander Wal on a platoon basis. Spencer, despite his desire to be an everyday player, never recaptured the bottled lightning of September 1998. At least, he never came close enough to putting up numbers worthy enough to merit his everyday presence in the lineup. Vander Wal eventually regressed into what he always was: a pinch hitter. The two of them gave way to Enrique Wilson playing right field against the Mets. Wilson misplayed a couple of balls so badly that within days, the Yankees traded for the ball player formerly known as Raul Mondesi.

If history repeats itself this year, Ramiro Peña will have to make an emergency start in left and bungle it so badly that in a fit of panic, Cash will trade for Milton Bradley by the Fourth of July.

This is all figuring, of course, that Granderson is playing center field and not left. Certain pundits on certain afternoon drive radio shows have already put Granderson in left, and have said that Winn was not a terrible signing, Nick Johnson was an upgrade and a solid No. 2 hitter, and Gardner is not a terrible player, either.

We’ll find out soon enough, right?

Yankee Panky: Johnny Dangerously

As of this writing, it’s January 26, and Johnny Damon is in free agent limbo. To date, t’s been a bizarre soap opera of power plays, hasn’t it?

Here’s the brief chronicle of events:

* Scott Boras sets Damon’s “value” at $13 million a year and states Damon won’t sign for less than a three-year deal. The Yankees were amused.

* Brian Cashman, after pulling off the three-team stunner that brought the Yankees Curtis Granderson, counters with two years at $14. Boras is amused and counters at two-for-20.

* Hideki Matsui signs with the Angels Who-Claim-To-Be-From-LA-Only-To-Boost-Marketing-Efforts for one year at $6 million. The Yankees are amused and silently gloat that they might have assessed the market correctly.

* The Yankees raise eyebrows by signing Nick Johnson to a one-year, $5M deal to be the DH, and a week later, swinging Melky Cabrera to Atlanta in a package that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Yankees. Amusement reigned in the sense of irony the Vazquez acquisition represented; here is the man who gave up the home run to Damon that effectively cemented the worst postseason collapse – or greatest comeback, depending on your perspective – in baseball history. As Daffy Duck once said, “Ho ho. That’s rich. It is to laugh.”

So here it is now that Damon, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, has interest from the Oakland A’s (monetary value unknown). Meanwhile, Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have $2 million left in their budget. Elsewhere, Marc Carig heard directly from the source that Damon expects to have a team within a week. If you believe Bill Madden, Damon overplayed his hand and the Yankees misjudged how much they need him.

That may seem dramatic. Michael Kay, on his afternoon show, discussed the Heyman and Olney reports. He wondered if the A’s are offering $5 million and the Yankees do in fact make a last-ditch, take-it-or-leave-it $2 million offer, will Damon swallow his pride, deal with the “emasculation” of an 85 percent pay cut and sign with the Yankees, or if he’ll take Oakland’s money, since that’s the best offer. Bonnie Bernstein opined that if Damon comes back, when he reports to Spring Training and is welcomed heartily, he’ll reclaim his status in the clubhouse. Kay wondered if the ego blow would be too much, noting that the Yankees management “keeps score” (Kay’s words), and would silently revel in their victory.

The Yankees have been known to wait until February to pull rabbits out of their hat. February is a week from now. There are still some pretty notable rabbits on the market. Judging from the flow of reports that surfaced over the last 24 hours, the Yankees might have smartly waited for the New York football season to officially end before breaking their silence.

One thing is certain: Brett Gardner will not be the Yankees’ starting left fielder in Spring Training. … Right?


Observations from Cooperstown: Vazquez, Left Fielders, and George Michael

Due to the vagaries of the holiday schedules, I’ve yet to comment publicly on the Yankees’ last major acquisition of the winter: the Javier Vazquez trade. So we’ll file this in the category of “better late than never.” On the one hand, I have to confess I’m not Vazquez’ biggest fan. His career has largely been a disappointment, based on the context of the ability he flashed as a young Montreal Expo seven or eight years ago. He’s had only two dominant seasons in his career—2003 and this past season—which isn’t sufficient for the kind of stuff he’s always had. He’s had a good career, no question, just not the kind of career that matches the talent of his right arm.

With that criticism out of the way, I cannot legitimately complain about the trade that brought him back to the Bronx. The Yankees simply did not give up that much to acquire a capable right-hander who would be a legitimate No. 2 starter on many staffs. Melky Cabrera is a serviceable ballplayer who will never be a star, Mike Dunn is a minor league pitching prospect who cannot start, and Arodys Vizcaino is a 19-year-old right-hander who has never pitched above the pitching-minded NY-Penn League. (As a frequent visitor to Oneonta and Utica, I’ve seen too many kid pitchers dominate this league before flaming out in tougher hitting environments.) Of the three, the only player that caused the Yankees any pain in surrendering was Vizcaino, but there is still so much distance—and so much uncertainty—between where he is now and his anticipated arrival in the major leagues.

For me, the key to the trade was acquiring Vazquez without having to surrender Nick Swisher, whose contract was probably too rich for Atlanta’s thinning bloodstream. Giving up Swisher in this deal would have been a mistake; his regular season power, his versatility, and his infusion of enthusiasm have been forgotten too quickly by too many media types who only want to dwell on the postseason or some ridiculous notion of staid and serious Yankee professionalism. Would the Yankees really have been comfortable opening the season with an outfield of Brett Gardner (left field), Curtis Granderson (center field), and Cabrera (right field)—and Rule 5 pickup Jamie Hoffmann in reserve? I wouldn’t.


Yankee Panky: The Writes of Spring

The last week of March signals the beginning of the regular season like light at the end of a tunnel. In Florida, beat writers and their backups, many of whom have been stationed there since the beginning of February, are gathering the final roster notes and putting the finishing touches on their season preview specials for next Sunday’s paper, while the columnists, most of whom are based in New York, continue to track the off-field news and craft profiles of the key players involved in those scenarios.

It’s an exciting and stressful time for all the moving parts of a baseball operation, from the team itself to the media outlets covering the team, but if you work in sports and if baseball is the sport in which you’ve chosen to specialize, it’s the best stress you can have outside of being involved in the postseason.

Much has been made of Joe Girardi’s decision to flip Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order. Much was written about this topic in the winter and spring leading up to the 2006 season, Damon’s first in pinstripes. At the Baseball Writers Association of America dinner in December of 2005, I remember asking SI’s Tom Verducci, who is a proponent of Sabermetric analysis, what he thought about putting Jeter in the leadoff spot. He agreed that the combination of Jeter’s ability to get on base more consistently (he was coming off a year with a .389 OBP to Damon’s .366), and Gary Sheffield batting third—which would have kept the righty-lefty-righty element in play that Joe Torre favored—made Jeter the better choice for the leadoff spot. But that spring, when the writers asked Torre about his plan, the Yankee manager was undeterred about keeping Damon as the leadoff hitter. Torre, in his way, usually deflected the discussion by saying, “You only have to worry about the leadoff batter for the first inning. Then the rest of the lineup takes care of itself.” It was as if the decision was predetermined from the moment Damon signed with the Yankees.

What we know as baseball fans is that the numbers rarely lie. Jeter’s lowest seasonal on-base percentage pre-Damon was .352 in 2004. Head to head, Damon, whose career has spanned the same exact time frame of Jeter’s, had a higher OBP than Jeter only once prior to his arrival in New York (in 2004: Damon .380 to Jeter’s .352.). The trend has held true since 2006, as Jeter has bested Damon in OBP twice: .417 to .359 in ’06, and .388 to .351 in ’07.

Adding further credibility to Jeter as a leadoff batter is the number of times that Jeter has grounded into double plays versus Damon. Over the course of their respective careers, Damon has grounded into 120 fewer double plays than Jeter (75 to 95), an average of nine fewer GIDPs per season.

Cliff Corcoran, through Pete Abe, did a great job of breaking down the numbers earlier this week.

Here’s a thought, though: If Girardi is adamant about Jeter in the leadoff spot now, did he think about this at all in 2006 when he was Torre’s consiglieri on the bench? If so, and if he had Torre’s ear, why didn’t he suggest it? By the numbers, and the fact that Damon is entering his Age 35 season and Jeter will turn 35 on June 26, this decision appears to be three years late.


Until next week . . .

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver