Well, the Indians signed aging outfielder/designated hitter Johnny Damon today, though it’s still pending his physical. And maybe it’s the cynical part in me, but my first thought was: OK, now what?
Sure, I get it. The team’s offense is struggling right now, scoring just 20 runs in the first five games, but Damon won’t be a noticeable upgrade over incumbent left fielder Shelley Duncan. And truth is he may actually be a slight downgrade.
Damon’s put together a fantastic career, one that has him knocking on the Hall of Fame’s door by hitting .286/.353/.435 during his 17-year career. Now, however, he’s nothing more than a solid fourth outfielder, something the Indians don’t need, especially considering it’s another left handed bat to add to the already left-hander heavy lineup and the position he’s best suited for – designated hitter – is already filled.
Damon’s still a capable hitter. Over the past two seasons, his total offensive production was nine-percent above the league average (109 wRC+). Assuming he can maintain those numbers or something close to them – and there’s no red flags other than his advancing age to suggest that he couldn’t – they would represent a major upgrade for the Indians in left field. However – and there’s always a however – his defense will almost assuredly negate his offensive value.
See, he’s never been a strong defender during his career. His arm is one of the worst – if not the worst – in the game and team’s will definitely exploit that at every opportunity. And according to his Ultimate Zone Rating Per 150 (UZR/150), he’s cost his teams 36 runs more than the league average defender since 2002. Oh, yeah, Damon’s played only 353.1 innings in the field over the last two years. Or approximately 39 total games. So his defense could conceivably be worse this season than it’s been historically. And, again, it’s been pretty horrendous historically.
I understand why the team signed Damon, sort of. They were looking for a spark, an offensive igniter. And maybe they will catch lightning in a bottle. But when you look at the whole picture – solid offense and atrocious defense – it will all be a moot point. Maybe he’s worth one win above replacement during his time with the team (he’s got an out close based on Grady Sizemore’s return so he might not even be worth that much). I could see that happening. But that’s still the same level Shelley Duncan would perform at too.
Either way, I’m not overly excited about this signing. He’s still a big name and will help to sell a few more tickets – and they could definitely use that – but he’s not going to add a whole lot to the Indians’ win total in the end. And, truthfully, depending how much they paid him – the numbers haven’t been released at the time of this writing – it might have been best to save it for the draft or use it on an international prospect they wouldn’t normally pursue because budgetary reasons.