Jokes aside, in addition to the Tigers, the Atlanta Braves have also allegedly shown interest in signing Damon (at least according to the rumor mill). For reasons I mentioned in this week’s podcast, I don’t think Damon is a great fit for Detroit — even if you think he adds a win or two to the Tigers, that isn’t likely to put the Tigers anywhere near the playoffs. The Braves, on the other hand, are in a position to spend a bit for a marginal win. They look like a team that could give Philadelphia a run for its money in the NL East, and failing that, would be a favorite for the wildcard.
What does Damon offer? Offensively, CHONE projects .352 wOBA, or about 13 runs above average per 700 PA. That projection doesn’t adjust for league, so let’s give him a couple extra runs for moving into the NL for +15. Damon’s defense has come under a lot of fire recently, but it’s probably not quite as bad as it seems. After taking positional adjustments, speed scores, and age into account, I have Damon at about minus 10/162 position-neutral outfielder (so about -13 CF, -3 LF). Despite his age, Damon has been pretty durable lately, so 85% playing time is still fair. +15 offense -10 fielding + 22.5 replacement level times 85% = a 2.3 WAR player. That’s a decent player even at $7M for one year.
How does this compare to Atlanta’s current major league outfielders? Nate McLouth is slated to start in center. CHONE projects .355 wOBA, or +15/700. I have him as a -5 position-neutral outfielder. +15 offense -5 fielding + 22.5 replacement times 85% = 2.8 WAR.
Bobby Cox is apparently discussing having Matt Diaz and recently-acquired Melky Cabrera share playing time. CHONE projects Diaz at .349 wOBA, about +12/700, and although he’s been platooned heavily due to massive splits, as a righty I estimate his split to be about even. I have Diaz as a -5 defender, but he also never plays full-time due to injuries and platooning — 75% seems about right. +12 -5 +22.5 times 75% = 2.2 WAR, although that might be high due to injury concerns and platoon uncertainty.
What about Cabrera? I’m with Dave on Melky — people focus too much on his alleged “tweener” status and miss his age relative to performance. CHONE agrees about offense, and projects Cabrera for a .358 wOBA, +17/700. His “tweener” status on defense might mean you don’t want him in center too much, but it also means he’s be a plus defender on the corners, I have him at -3/162 position neutral. +17 -3 + 22.5 times 85% playing time = 3.1 WAR. Far from being a 4th OF part-timer, Melky shouldn’t be taking a backseat to anyone in Atlanta.
McLouth and Cabrera are probably better players than Damon at this point, but Damon is better than Diaz, especially if you think Diaz’s platoon issues and injuries make him worse than the projection above. In any case, as Dave has argued in the podcasts, having four good outfielders is a good idea, especially given Diaz and McClouth’s recent playing time woes and the Braves’ hopes for contention. For the right money, Damon could make a lot of sense for the Braves if they distribute playing time properly. But…
…you’re probably screaming “What about Jason Heyward, the best prospect in baseball that the Braves are going to give the shot in right field?” And you’d be exactly right. I’m not going to bother with projections for Heyward. In short, if Atlanta thinks he’s ready and has him in the majors, they have play him every day, otherwise it’s a waste. At that point, you’ve got McLouth, Cabrera, and Diaz fighting over two spots that should go to Cabrera and McLouth, with Diaz as the 4th OF. If they bring Damon in, there would be a lot less playing time to go around, and the marginal value to the Braves is much lower.
So if Johnny really wants $7 million per from the Braves, it looks like he’d better bust out some new attire.