This is old news in today’s world but Johnny Damon signed a deal with the Cleveland Indians for $1.25M with another possible $1.4M in incentives. MLBtraderumors writes that deal includes a full no-trade clause and would allow Damon to “explore other opportunities” if he loses playing time if or when Grady Sizemore returns from injury.
When or if Sizemore comes back from injury it will create a very crowded outfield, first base, and designated hitter situation so why would the Indians even want Johnny Damon?
Johnny Damon is a great name. Cleveland will love him. He is great to the fans, a leader in the clubhouse, and a fun personality but where will he play in Cleveland? Travis Hafner is the designated hitter. Casey Kotchman is the first baseman, and Carlos Santana will get time at both spots to keep him fresh when he is behind the plate.
Manager Manny Acta said in an interview that he does not have a set role for Damon in mind. He cannot say if he will have a full-time gig or a platoon role. The only place that it looks like he will even find playing time right now is in left field with Shelley Duncan. And, while the two could make a decent offensive platoon, the defense in left field will be horrible.
Johnny Damon was the full-time designated hitter for the 2011 Rays, playing only 84 innings in left field and two innings at first base, 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 the 3000 hit milestone. 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 8.1%, raising his career mark to only 6.0%. To be quite honest, the last person I wanted to see at the plate as a Rays fan was Johnny Damon because he seemed to be reaching and hacking at every pitch thrown his way.
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 simply because of small sample sizes or was this Damon re-finding his approach and patience?
Which Damon will the Indians get? I honestly cannot answer that last question but if Damon did re-find his approach then I know what the Indians see in Damon. For the Indians’ sake, and mine as a fan of the game, I prefer to see Johnny Damon playing and I hope he re-found his approach so he can reach the 3000 hit milestone before he hangs up his cleats.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt