Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Red Sox front office has had some hits and misses in the last five years, but no miss was greater than the failure to re-sign Johnny Damon after the 2005 season. Yes, the once-beloved Damon is now hated in Boston because of his decision to jump to the despised Yankees, lured by an offer of $52 million, over 4 years. But Damon was the heart and soul of the 2004 World Series winners who broke the Curse of the Bambino, chief idiot of the self-described "idiots" who came back so improbably from the 3-0 deficit against the Bronx Bombers. He owned Boston back then. Women loved him. Men admired him. And Damon wanted to stay. Until, that is, the Sox low-balled him. Then he was gone. For $12 million, it's tough to blame him.
It is tempting to put the finger on youthful GM Theo Epstein for this front office gaffe, but Epstein was having a dispute with team president Larry Lucchino at the time, and wasn't, temporarily, with the team. Lucchino was in charge of the negotiations with Damon's agent, Scott Boras, and the Sox' final offer of $40 million for 4 years was well short of what the Yanks were willing to pay. As soon as Damon signed with New York, the bad-mouthing started. He was "an old" 32, his best years behind him. He had no arm and was just an average fielder. His shoulder was suspect. By the end of his contract, the Yankees would surely rue paying him $12 million a year.
....Guess what? The Yanks got their money's worth, and then some. Damon's having a phenomenal season in the final year of that four-year contract, and the Yanks are talking about re-signing him in the off-season. Damon still has power--22 homers already in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium--83 runs scored, 8 steals, 52 walks, a leader in the clubhouse, popular with the fans and press...what's not to like? The Yanks are headed for the World Series, and the 35-year-old Damon is putting up numbers for his career--he has 2,389 hits and could reach 3,000--that probably will land him in the Hall of Fame.
....And the Red Sox? They're in a August swoon, and in place of Damon they went out and signed J.D. "Nancy" Drew.
....Okay, that's a cheapshot. Drew outgrew that nickname in the 2007 playoffs, when he eradicated the memory of a lousy first season with the Red Sox by helping them to their second World Series title in four years with a good post-season. At that point it seemed maybe boy wonder Theo Epstein had been smart to fling $70 million over five years at the oft-injured Drew (also represented by Boras)--$30 million more than the club had offered Damon. But with two years remaining on that contract, it's now clear: Drew is grossly overpaid; and Damon is sorely missed.
...Yes, Drew has a better arm than Damon, and plays a respectable right field. But a comparison of their offensive totals shows that Drew falls short of Damon in every category but one: walks. Theo loves walks. I prefer runs and ribbies. In Damon's four years with the Yankees,including this partial season, he has averaged 135 games, 150 hits, 97 runs, 19 homers, 22 steals, 70 RBIs, and 62 walks. Great numbers. Drew, in his three seasons with Boston, including this partial, has averaged just 116 games, 105 hits, 75 runs, 14 homers, 58 RBIs, 3 steals, and 73 walks. The guy's a walking machine. He really knows how to take a pitch. Unfortunately, he usually bats fifth or sixth, because most startling among those numbers is that Damon, usually a leadoff hitter, has averaged 12 more RBIs a season than Drew. If you also throw in the lousy offensive year that centerfielder Coco Crisp had in 2006 (105 games,.264 average, 8 homers, 58 runs, 36 RBIs)--after Damon left but before Drew was signed--you get the full picture of how much Boston has struggled to replace Damon's bat.
...Beyond that, Damon had personality and fire, something the 33-year-old Drew has shown little of during his stay in Boston.
....It's time for Bostonians to stop booing and give Johnny Damon his due. The guy was fun, he was good, and the Red Sox are worse off without him. The fact that he's headed for the post season now while Boston is reeling just rubs more salt in this self-inflicted wound. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will be stuck with the most overpaid right fielder in baseball for two more seasons. He looks like an old man now at 33. What's he going to look like in 2011?
....Why they signed you, Nancy, will always be a mystery to me.
Posted by E.M. Swift at 10:40 AM