A Thought Experiment About Trading Johnny Damon

Earlier this week, a report surfaced that the Rays would be willing to move Johnny Damon if the right offer came along. Trading Damon is an interesting idea, one that perhaps smacks of a mindset towards selling, but it could provide some interesting scenarios heading into the deadline.

On the field, Damon has produced in an unexpected way. In the three seasons prior to joining Tampa Bay, Damon hit .285/.365/.451, yet he has hit .279/.327/.426 to date. Even in comparison Damon’s 2010 season with Detroit, .271/.355/.401, he has traded in on-base value for added pop. That can be a worthwhile trade, but one point of on-base percentage is as valuable as nearly two points of slugging percentage, which leaves Damon as a loser in the swap, as he has lost 28 points of OBP, while gaining only 25 points of SLG. Nevertheless, Damon’s 753 OPS is right at the average American League designated hitter’s (755), and should get a boost when considering park factors.

A few AL contenders could find a use for Damon, as the Angels and Mariners have less productive designated hitters and playoff aspirations alike. Damon’s modest remaining salary, roughly $2.5 million, and playoff experience could make of him of interest to those teams as well. Maybe a National League team might consider throwing Damon into a corner outfield spot too, who knows. Since Damon is not projected to quality for Type B compensation (and for now, I am working under the assumption there will be free agent compensation this offseason), then the Rays have no reason outside of performance to hold onto him.

The problem with trading Damon exists in the qualitative value he holds. The perceived value is likely overstated, as Damon knows how to plant narratives and massage the media like few others. Give Damon credit, as either his media skills are either intrinsic or a product of taking notes during Scott Boras’ seminars. One of my favorite Damon tricks from this season is flipping out the idea that he was above thinking about stats, only to think about stats aloud (to paraphrase: “I don’t think, ‘Well, what would my batting average be if I bunted more runners over,’”). Another is telling the assembled media that he doesn’t look at his own stats, only to then inform them where he ranks on the all-time runs scored list a sentence or two later.

Handling the media well can improve a fringe Hall of Fame résumé in ways that compiling statistics cannot, and Damon has done just that. The groundswell for his candidacy has already began, and figures to intensify before it’s all said and done.

As for why the Rays would move Damon, the return probably would not be great. A half-season of an average-ish designated hitter in the twilight of his career isn’t too appealing. The real interesting part about moving Damon might be who fills the void, which could come in the form of buying another bat. The Athletics could—perhaps, should—be nearing a state of selling off some parts, and that includes Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, two players the Rays have had reported interest in before. Both are in the midst of rough seasons, but project to be Type-B free agents.

It’s possible neither will outhit Damon heading forward, but at worst, it diversifies the lineup a bit—as Willingham is a righty, and DeJesus is a switchleft-handed-hitter—while potentially adding a sandwich round draft pick to the fold. The Athletics are not ignorant, they know about the draft pick too, but the Rays would be taking about $3 million off their books (they have identical salaries) and allowing them to find out if one of their younger players, possibly Michael Taylor, can help the 2012 team. That the A’s traded Mark Ellis, who has a Type B projection, for nothing more than a middle relief prospect and a player to be named later is an encouraging sign.

Money will always play a part in any transaction, however Damon’s remaining salary (roughly $2.63 million) and incentives (at least $0.15 million) make a swap off between Damon and Willingham or DeJesus only a slight increase, and when the value of a draft pick is factored in, then it’s a worthwhile difference to pay. It would take some wheeling, dealing—likely too much to become a reality—but the Rays could improve by trading Damon and simply replacing him with an offensive equal, no matter how silly that sounds.

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One Response to A Thought Experiment About Trading Johnny Damon

  1. professortwain says:

    I think that trading Damon would be a major PR blunder, and Rays management won’t do it. Remember the big production the Rays made about signing Damon? From the start he has played the card of “local boy, a fan of this team, I want to stay here forever”, and whether you think that is hokum or not, he has played it well, and he’s become a fan favorite.

    I think Damon desperately wants to get his 3,000 hits and that he would play for a reduced salary to stay for the two years it will take to get them. As long as his play remains as good as it has been, and he continues to add positive energy to the team, I think he could be an exception to the Rays’ usual strategies emphasizing youth and cheap production.