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Preemptive Free Agent Strike Part Deux

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In honor of my finally ordering Mind Game (I'm not going to lie, since I work in a bookstore I'm getting this book for like $8, hence the wait until I could order it) I've decided to take a look at one of the problems the Red Sox will have this offseason. The one problem that if fixed correctly, will restore my faith in some of the decision making by this team. It is not that the faith is gone, but signing Renteria and some of the other moves this season simply confused me, and I do not like being confused. Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon is a free agent this winter, and he wants quite the deal. He has not released the figures or years as of yet, but he did make sure to open his mouth and say that the hometown discount was not going to happen due to the wait for a contract extension.

At Damon's very best, he was worth 7.2 Wins Above Replacement Player, which is very good, but is not a level he sustained. Last year his WARP was 6.7, and this year it stood at 5.5. Let's take a look at his Established Performance Level for Net Runs Above Average. This is a neat little spreadsheet that Richard Wade put together and should be pretty useful when trying to spot trends in NRAA.

This is based on his last three seasons, and for the supposed four-five years and $10-12 million I've been hearing Damon seems to think he deserves, I say let him go. Nevermind the fact that those numbers are most likely just going to decline. Let's take a look at his production in NRAA the past three years individually.

Whereas in 2003 his offense seemed to be the main problem, in 2005 it seems as if his defense is slipping. Just as a note, his Rate2 was below 100 before the shoulder injury that limited his already weak throwing arm, so the injury is not the responsible party in that regard. His bat still seems fine for the most part, but I want to take note of something. His stolen bases have fallen pretty drastically in his time in Boston:

Damon in Boston
2002: 31/37
2003: 30/36
2004: 19/27
2005: 18/19

Obviously he had no problems getting caught this year, but it seemed to be more of an element of surprise than a speed sort of thing. Someone can call me on that if they would like, that last sentence is just from observations made this year watching Red Sox games. His range also seemed to decrease in the outfield. According to his Zone Ratings, his range has slipped somewhat in each of the past few seasons.

Damon ZR
2002: .910
2003: .906
2004: .879
2005: .874

Where in Rate2 the change seems slow and then drastic, the change here starts in 2004. With the decrease in steals and the decrease in range patrolling center field, one may think that Damon is losing his speed, a valuable asset of his that makes him worth the contract he has. There are other decreases in his game as well though.

Damon SecAvg/ISO
2003: .283/.132
2004: .312/.172
2005: .236/.123

Part of what made Damon such a valuable asset in 2004 was his ability to hit for power out of the leadoff spot. He also just finished with his lowest walk total since 1997, when he only had 42 walks, so the Secondary Average took a huge hit, and the ISO dropped below 2003 levels.

There is one major problem with not resigning Johnny Damon. There is essentially no one to replace him on the free agent market, but chances are good all eyes will be on Damon and the market will miss out on Kenny Lofton. Check out Lofton's EPL and 3-year NRAA:

For those who like their information graphically:

Lofton seems to be on the uptick compared to Damon, and it is due to his defense. Even if/when Lofton's bat drops back to 2004 levels, if his defense can hold up one more season he will have more value than Damon, and will most likely be relatively inexpensive. I do not see a team handing him a major money one or two year deal, even after a very good season in centerfield. Damon on the other hand is looking for a massive contract. The Red Sox only real inhouse option is moving Hanley Ramirez to centerfield rather than shortstop, especially with Edgar Renteria playing another 3 seasons for $33 million left on his contract. Chip Ambres (-3.20 NRAA in center) most likely could have played a season there, but he was traded to the Royals for Tony Graffanino. Adam Stern does not inspire much confidence as an everyday player, although he does make quite the fourth outfielder with his speed, tremendous arm and defensive play. The Red Sox would be smart to lock up Lofton for a season until they can find a better replacement, or a more long term replacement depending on their plans, or one of the other interested parties in Damon could get their "consolation" prize with Lofton. The thing with Lofton on the Sox is that if Hanley proves himself ready for the majors by July, Lofton can be moved at the deadline for some help elsewhere. It should be interesting to see where the Damon signing goes, as it should help shape the market for outfielders along with Hideki Matsui.