Last year, the Yankees decided not to retain an aging corner outfielder in an attempt to upgrade their defense and save money, as Bobby Abreu was seeking a significant paycheck for his durability and consistent offensive abilities. He found the market for his services nearly non-existent, however, and eventually settled on a one year, low money deal with a club in the AL West that was in need of an offensive boost.
Fast forward to today, and history is apparently trying very hard to repeat itself. This year’s aging corner outfielder that the Yankees are not retaining is Johnny Damon, and just like Abreu, he’s finding out the hard way that teams do not value him like they used to. This afternoon, Buster Olney reported that Damon’s best offer may come for $4 or $5 million on a one year deal from the Oakland A’s – an AL West club that could use an offensive boost.
2008 Abreu and 2009 Damon had very similar offensive seasons.
Abreu: 684 PA, .296/.371/.471, 10.7% BB%, 17.9% K%, .176 ISO, .368 wOBA
Damon: 626 PA, .282/.365/.489, 11.3% BB%, 17.8% K%, .207 ISO, .376 wOBA
Basically the same kind of production, once you adjust for the change in Yankee Stadiums. They’re similar hitters at similar spots in their career. Both have declined from their prime, but not fallen all that far.
There is one big difference between 2008 Abreu and 2009 Damon, however, and that’s on defense. Abreu was victim of the backlash against bad defensive corner outfielders. From 2004 to 2008, his UZR/150s as an LF were -10, -5, -14, -3, and -25. At the very best, you could surmise that he was below average, and realistically, he was more likely to be terrible. He was a borderline DH, the kind of defender who shouldn’t play much outfield except in case of emergency.
Damon, on the other hand, throws like a girl but is otherwise a decent defender. It’s true that his 2009 UZR is not good, but his total UZR over the last three years at the position is a +5, and as we try to remind people frequently, larger sample sizes are needed when evaluating defense.
Damon is clearly a better defender now than Abreu. He’s not great, and he may even be reaching the point in his career where he’s below average, but he’s simply not a guy that costs your team a ton of runs in the field.
Abreu was a bargain on a one year, $5 million deal with the Angels, even as he proved that he didn’t really belong in the outfield anymore. Damon, though, is basically the same hitter, just with better defensive skills, and he might have to settle for less than what Abreu got? This is a market correction gone way too far.
Even with the reduced costs of wins, Damon is easily worth $8 to $10 million for 2010. Just like with Abreu last year, teams will be kicking themselves in a few months if they let him sign for peanuts. There are enough clubs out there that could use a +2 to +3 win left fielder that this level of disinterest is simply a market failure.
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