What Did Johnny Damon Do?

Once again, the Boston Red Sox have been one of the most active teams this off season in hopes of bringing another championship back to Bean Town. To keep up with their arch rival New York Yankees, the Red Sox find themselves trying to do everything possible to bolster their already potent lineup. While the Yankees took a different route to better their team by the old “addition by subtraction” rule (for the first time that I can ever remember) and cutting contracts of older players such as Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield, the Red Sox have followed the old beaten path of the Yankees and throwing large contracts at anything that moves. One of the largest and most talked about moves was that of the JD Drew signing that took over a month to complete. While everyone in Red Sox Nation was up in arms about this contract being given to Drew because of his injury history and less than explosive stats, my reason for questioning it was different. Why wasn’t this money given to Johnny Damon?

In December of 2005 Johnny Damon was in contract talks with the Boston Red Sox. He and his agent, Scott Boras, were looking to lock in a long term deal with a team that he had not only won the World Series with, but also achieved rock star status. Damon was a beloved member of the Red Sox and wanted to finish his career as one of the “Idiots.” Boras brought a 7 year, $84 million contract to Sox CEO Larry Lucchino in which the acting GM (since the departure of Epstein a couple of months earlier) turned around and offered less years and less money with 4 years, $40 million. Boras and Damon quickly turned this down and wanted to renegotiate a different deal since they were so far off. When Lucchino put the contract issue aside, the Yankees swooped in and offered 4 years at $52 million. No counter offer was made and one of the most beloved players from the 2004 champs had just joined the enemy. Red Sox Nation revolted at Damon calling him “traitor”, “Johnny Demon”, and a variety of other colorful new nicknames.

After a very nice 2006 campaign with his new team, Johnny Damon seems to have stuck it to his former team for not taking the time to address his contract. It almost felt as if they had a “who cares” mentality. So after disrespecting Damon, the Red Sox ended up losing him to their arch enemy/division rival for a mere $3 million a year. Last season Damon really stuck it to his former team by posting a .324 AVG, 6 doubles, 4 HR, and 13 RBI against the Sox.

So now with the history of the Damon-to-Yankees saga covered, I have to pose a question that has been confusing me ever since the Drew signing was first brought up: why are the Red Sox willing to give all that money to an outside player with injury question marks only a year after passing on a more talented player that was a beloved part of their organization? It makes no sense to me.

I’ve heard some arguments defending the JD Drew signing as it will give them a powerful bat to hit behind Manny Ramirez. I’m not arguing this at all. I applaud the Sox for adding a clause to the contract that if Drew misses too much time due to his bad shoulder that they are able to void the end of his contract. I’m not even arguing one piece of this signing other than the fact that they weren’t willing to sign Damon last off season yet have no problem throwing money around now. Over the weekend I argued my opinion to people and let them know I was planning on writing this article. They said the Drew is a better fit for what they need in their lineup. I told them they are wrong. Then I hit them with the numbers these two have put up over the last three seasons (also remember Damon is a leadoff hitter and Drew was a clean up/five hole hitter):

Damon 2004: [150 games – .304/.380/.477, 123 R, 20 HR, 94 RBI, 19 SB]
Drew 2004: [145 games – .305/.436/.569, 118 R, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 12 SB]

Damon 2005: [148 games – .316/.366/.439, 117 R, 10 HR, 75 RBI, 18 SB]
Drew 2005: [72 games – .286/.412/.520, 48 R, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 1 SB]

Damon 2006: [149 games – .285/.359/.482, 115 R, 24 HR, 80 RBI, 25 SB]
Drew 2006: [146 games – .283/.393/.498, 84 R, 20 HR, 100 RBI, 2 SB]

Now I’m in no way knocking Drew’s stats, but if you look at the comparisons, Damon had very similar stats (if not better in some cases) out of the leadoff spot than Drew had as a clean up/number five hitter. In fact one could argue that Drew is a very below average middle of the order hitter if you compare him to other’s who bat in the same spot. If I had my choice of whether to sign Damon or Drew to multi-year deals I would hands down choose Damon because of everything he brings to the table. It’s so hard to find an elite lead off hitter (especially one that you could just as easily plug into the number three spot in your order) like Damon. It’s even harder to find an athlete that was as beloved to a fan base as Damon was.

The meaning of this article was in no way to bash JD Drew or the signing of him. Rather it was just an opportunity to point out what a major mistake the Red Sox made in their judgment. Signing an overall less valuable player to more money and more years than they were offering one of their franchise guys a mere 12 months previously is something that will continue to haunt the Sox in the years to come.

Of course if this up coming season Drew ends up hitting .300 while knocking out 30 homers and driving in over 100 RBI and protecting Manny Ramirez in the process, then just pretend I never wrote this.


4 Responses to What Did Johnny Damon Do?

  1. Christine E. says:

    Good analysis–and your right–as much as I am PO’ed at Johnny these days for going to the enemy, and especially his behavior after, if baffles me that the Sox were unwilling to pay to keep him, but willing to throw FAR too much money at JD Drew…

  2. nyyfaninlaaland says:

    I know I’m coming from the other side on this one, but there is some context that makes this make some sense.

    2 main points – Drew’s power numbers in ’05 & ’06 were somewhat hurt by playing in LA, while Damon’s in ’06 were helped by the short porch in Yankee Stadium. Of course, Fenway isn’t exactly a lefty’s homer park either.
    Second, the market went a little nutty this year for any decent player – it seems all of baseball ownership suddenly decided they had money to spend after new CBA, etc. No more of that contraction, everybody’s losing money crap from Bud. So the financial /market perspective was somewhat different.

    Of course I still find it hard to believe they let Damon go – he had so identified with the Boston “aura & mystique” of ’03 & ’04. But don’t blame the player – they’ve got every right to take the best deal. And as for Drew, Mr. “paper cut – put me on the 60 DL”, well, good luck with that. I’d certainly be concerned if a physical led to a 7 week contract delay, then got you the right void the contract 3 YEARS FROM NOW!

  3. Mario says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your two points. I do admit, I am a Sox fan and I was angry at Damon for a while like everyone else. But after the initial shock wore off I stepped back to look at it from an outsider’s perspective and I do see it wasn’t Damon’s fault. He was disrespected as Lucchino didn’t seem to care if he left or not.

    Contracts have gotten out of control this year more than ever. It just blows my mind how much the Sox spent to even SPEAK with Matsuzaka.

    I just wonder what the first problem will be with old glass-jaw Drew…

  4. Christine E. says:

    I think all of your points are valid nyyfaninlaaland, and while the fact that Johnny left bothered me, but I could have gotten over that–what made me crazy was all the nonsense about the “Yankee Way” 15 minutes after he signed the contract–and his expectation that the Yankees and the Red Sox woud all now get along (his attempts to get a bunch of them on a plane during spring training, going on about how ‘Tek likes and respects Jeter and A-Rod, etc…) but then again, I will reluctantly admit I read “Idiot”–there is no one better at talking out both sides of his mouth that Johnny Damon–he could see used cars if he didn’t play baseball…:-) So for those reasons Johnny is dead to me…I don’t boo him–I IGNORE him

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