The free agent market is looking mighty bare these days, but there's one name left that I think could benefit the Yankees solely in the 2012 season.
Johnny Damon, at 38 years young, could potentially be a great pickup for any MLB team willing to dish out a little money.
Some of you might be thinking to yourselves that Johnny Damon is simply too old to be a productive player anymore. After all, his .326 OBP in 2011 was his personal worst since 2001 in his final season with the Oakland Athletics (.324 OBP) and certainly doesn't mesh well with what's become prominently synonymous with the Yankees.
But I still see the good left in Damon. I believe the Yankees can milk another year of baseball life out of him at the right price.
What I found astonishing when examining Damon's career stat line was his walks from last season. Damon managed to work 51 walks in 150 games, the least amount of four-pitch walks he's had in a single season since 1997 with the Kansas City Royals (42 walks).
Why exactly was he walking less? He was swinging the bat far more often. Damon put 494 balls into play last year, the most since his first season with New York in 2006 (504 balls in play). Naturally, it's safe to assume that because he was putting more balls into play, that leaves less opportunities to work walks.
Damon was simply swinging the bat more often in 2011 and just not making contact as much with pitches inside or outside the zone. When he did make contact, however, the result was normally better than the past few years. His decreased GB% and increased LD% would indicate a greater chance of the baseball finding a plot of land where a fielder is not located. His BABIP of .284, also his lowest since 2001, indicates that Damon just wasn't having much luck with ball placement off the bat.
Ranking 23rd in the league in average pitches seen per plate appearance 4.03 in 2011, he still has the patience that the Yankees emphasize so strongly. I would estimate that Damon, being the oldest player on the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays starting roster by six years, may have sacrificed a bit of his patience in an attempt to make plays happen with his bat at points in time.
And he can still neutralize lefties well. In 2011, Damon had a .354 OBP and .458 SLG against southpaws in 190 plate appearances.
The Yankees also have a fairly substantial sample size of Damon's ability to hit in Yankee Stadium III. Since 2009, Damon has put together a slugging percentage of .524 (18 2B, two 3B, 19 HR) and on-base percentage of .370 in the Bronx. Ironically enough, that's even with a fairly low BABIP of .271.
At the end of the day the question is whether or not the Yankees actually need Johnny Damon this season. While he won't necessarily make or break a championship run, his experience and hitting style are still suitable for Yankee Stadium. Jesus Montero's departure opens up the DH spot so that aging stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter can take "half-days" once a week or so. But Damon could assuredly see playing time as a DH more often than not as well as left field when Brett Gardner needs a day of rest. I know Damon's arm is something of a travesty, but that's a discussion for another day.
Damon's contract with Tampa Bay was worth $5.25 million last year. If the Yankees want to make this a reality, Damon will definitely need to take a little bit of a pay cut. Worst comes to worst, his salary will only affect 2012's total finances and the Yankees won't need to worry about paying him a substantial amount of money as he ages well into his 40s.
So what are your thoughts, Pinstripe Alley? Should the Yankees give Damon one last hurrah?
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