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What Johnny Damon brings to the Indians

What Johnny Damon brings to the Indians
April 13, 2012
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Outside of all the injuries last season, the issue for the Indians was the offense.

The problem this spring training was, again, the offense.

In the early stages of the 2012 season, the problem has been – you guessed it – the offense.

In an attempt to add some more pop to the offense and liven the Indians clubhouse, GM Chris Antonetti has reportedly signed veteran outfielder/designated hitter Johnny Damon.

There are those who will say Antonetti didn't do enough this offseason, and is now bringing in anybody he possibly can. There are some who will laugh at the fact that the Indians had to turn to a 38-year-old player on the downside of his career, who hasn't played the outfield regularly since 2009, and didn't receive any contract offers this offseason, in order to “fix” their offense.

While those mindsets may be justified, there's also reason to believe that Damon truly can help turn things around in Cleveland.

We'll start with the intangibles. Damon is everything you could possibly want in a leader for a young, promising ballclub. It only takes watching one Damon-played game to see the sincere passion and enthusiasm he has for the game of baseball. The kind of enthusiasm that will undoubtedly rub off on some of the young Indians players.

Along with that leadership and passion, Damon brings experience. Not just the experience of playing in the Major Leagues, but the experience of winning and playing in several meaningful games. He's been to the playoffs eight times. He's won two World Series titles. He's a two-time All-Star and he carries a reputation of being a big-time clutch performer.

Damon's statistics aren't half bad either. He is a career .286 hitter with 231 HR, 1120 RBI, and 404 stolen bases. Since becoming a full time starter in 1996, Damon has never appeared in less than 140 games. Last season, at the age of 37, Damon played in 150 games and racked up 582 at bats. All he did in those 582 at bats is hit .261 with 16 HR and 73 RBI, while playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in the loaded AL East. Even at 37, he still managed to steal 19 bases. Had Damon been an Indian last season, those 19 stolen bases would have been good for 1st on the team.

There will be complaints, and rightfully so, about the Indians bringing in yet another lefty to add to their already very lefty heavy lineup. The statistics show that this should not be an issue with Damon. For his career, in 1705 at bats, Damon has hit .285 against left handed pitching. Against right handed pitching, Damon's career batting average is .286. Add to this the fact that Progressive Field much better suits left handed hitters, and Damon starts to become a much more attractive offensive addition.

However, there are many questions about Damon's ability to play left field at this stage of his career. While I'm sure he's lost a couple steps, and his arm will always be one of the worst in the league, Damon is still capable of playing the outfield. Until the last fews years, Damon was an outfielder for his entire career. This is not any type of position change for him. He still knows how to judge a flyball, although it may take him longer to get to those balls than it used to. All in all, with how the offense has performed, the Indians are willing to trade a step or two in the outfield for some added offensive firepower.

Through radio interviews and text messages sent to media members, Damon has shown that he is genuinely excited to join the Cleveland Indians. So let's embrace him, and hope he brings that pedigree for winning with him. He may not be “the answer” to the offensive woes, but he will without question add great leadership, contagious energy, and a bat capable of helping the Indians offense.

User Comments

April 13, 2012 - 5:46 PM EDT
Damon is a horrible fit for this team. Number 1 he moves one of our top 4 hitters out of the lineup. That means his bat becomes a negative.

Number 2 he's LH - enough said.

Number 3, he's a liability in the OF and from what I have heard, his arm which was way below avg at his peak is even weaker today.

Number 4, he's yet another 38 year old has been. Enough said on that .

Number 5, he offers 0 flexibility on this team. He won't be playing any CF because he simply can't. LF or DH are the only positions they can use him. If they send down Cunningham, they have no CF options.

I'm getting a sinking feeling about Antonetti's competence as this team's GM. He has done very little to make me believe he can turn this team in the right direction.
April 13, 2012 - 4:08 PM EDT
I don't think $30 mil would have gotten Beltran to the Indians ($4 mil more then the Cards). The Indians offer would have had to been much higher then the others, like $35 or $40 mil. And with him wanting a no-trade clause, thats a lot of risk.

The problem is, other then Beltran Fielder and Pojuls,who was available to sign as free agent? And the Indians already traded away their big name prospects
April 13, 2012 - 1:16 PM EDT
I concur that it's likely Beltran would have needed a substantial offer to choose Cleveland over St. Louis. To be legit players for Beltran, they had to offer him at least as much, if not more. Offering less was just giving them a way to say the "were players" for Beltran...which I don't buy.

That said, the major point is that they couldn't offer Beltran what it would have taken to get him because of the ridiculous signing of Sizemore, which is the deal that threw the whole offseason out of whack.

As per Damon for a multi-year deal...again...I like it if it's a bigger piece of the puzzle to winning. You can't make a signing simply to put asses in the seats...that's the one thing I'm sure the Indians management wouldn't do. I don't think that you go out and sign Damon first, unless he's a bigger piece of a signing pie, and at this stage of the game, it's clear he isn't that...just a band-aid, unless there is a bigger player to be had at the break...but they won't know that, until July, and by then, Damon may be gone, and they may be selling pieces...

We shall see...
April 13, 2012 - 12:44 PM EDT
Beltran wouldn't have signed if we upped the ante 3-4 million anyway. For very similar money he signed with the Cardinals because he wanted to play for a winner, not a team trying to rise from the gutter. It's the same story with Pena, he wanted to play for his original team, so he rejected the Indians $8 million offer and took 7.25 million from the Rays.

I hate to say it, but the way that the Indians are going to attract big name free agent talent may be the way that the Nationals have done it, money that you'd be stupid to refuse (although Werth hasn't really worked out so far). Most players, if offered a contract within 10-15% of the next highest bidder would reject it if they felt that they had a better shot at the post season with the team offering the second highest bid.

The only other option is to start winning. Return to 2007 form and free agents will be more inclined to sign with the Tribe. I'm just not sure if this team is ready to reach those heights yet, especially with the beast over in Detroit.

That said, I was in favor of the Indians signing Damon to a 2 year 5-6 million dollar contract as a way to drive ticket sales. In 2013, if he remains healthy and plays regularly, he should be in the hunt for hit #3000, and I know personally, if a player on one of my teams were going for HOF numbers, I'd be there to try to watch it happen.
April 13, 2012 - 12:12 PM EDT
The Damon signing is all about perspective, as I said in my piece. What really threw off the Tribe this offseason, and is nearly unforgivable, was the rushed signing of Grady Sizemore. Had they committed to going out and getting Carlos Beltran, really just said, "We're going to give him a two-year deal at 28 to 30 million," things might have been different.

I love the Damon signing in that he does add a presentable and professional at bat, and that presence in the locker room. While I do feel that is a bit overrated in the grand scheme of things, Damon is the Eddie Murray-esque sort of signing. The problem is that there are still massive holes...but...

...imagine that Damon signing right now if Beltran, or even Willingham is on this team. Imagine the Indians go out and sign Beltran, Kotchman and Damon...or Willingham, Kotchman and Damon. Sure, it take the Tribe over their spending...but by what, three of four million (I know, a lot in our scheme of things, but not in this era of baseball)...

Glad Damon is on this team, but they are still a major piece short...and perhaps a piece short because of Sizemore.

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