No question, Johnny Damon is going play next year.
The question is where.
Rays manager Joe Maddon, for one, hopes it’s in Tampa Bay again.
“Those are questions we’re going throughout right now,” Maddon said Monday afternoon at the winter meetings. “Johnny Damon, I’ve talked about it before. As advertised: Wonderful clubhouse guy, true professional, somebody that fits in with our culture well.
“But we’re not there yet to decide whether John is coming back or not, but he’s definitely in the process.”
Damon gave the Rays’ offense some significant help in 2011. While his average was down 10 points from his one-year cameo with the Tigers (.261, from .271), his production numbers were up. He hit 16 home runs, twice as many as in 2010. And his RBIs jumped to 73 from 51.
Plus, at age 38, he stole 19 bases, his highest total since 2008.
He definitely fits the Rays’ offense. Like so many other Tampa Bay players, he’s not going to wow you with the bat. But he’ll so often do the little things to get the job done, and occasionally rise in the clutch.
Then there’s the personality and leadership. Put that all together, and it’s hard to imagine the Rays go on that miraculous run — from dead men walking to AL wild-card winners, in the span of September — without him.
Now, he’s a free agent again, for the third consecutive winter.
Like the previous two winters, Damon doesn’t figure to sign with the Rays or anybody in swift fashion. For starters, his agent is Scott Boras, who uses every ounce of persuasion to get his clients every nickel possible. And with Damon in the twilight of his career, it greatly benefits Boras to wait until a host of other/younger/bigger offensive names sign, which then creates a market for his client. Ballclubs that missed out on other bats (the Josh Willinghams of the baseball world) suddenly will start considering Damon.
Second choice, third choice, fourth choice, who cares, so long as he’s not paid like one. And with Boras on the case, he never has been.
In February 2010, Boras got the Tigers to pony up $8 million for Damon.
And in January 2011, Boras convinced the frugal Rays to commit $5.25 million, even thougth he was coming off a rough year in Detroit and it had become quite clear his future was as a designated hitter.
In fact, according to his page on Baseball-Reference.com, Damon hasn’t signed a free-agent deal before January since 2001. Back then, his stats and star power drummed up interest. Back then, holding out might have irked the Red Sox enough for them to pull their offer.
Back then, he was a hot commodity.
Today, he’s not. Wait long enough, and that just might change.
Be sure to check back with Covering the Bases, as Tony Paul blogs throughout the day Monday-Wednesday from the winter meetings