So Johnny Damon has officially defected to the Evil Empire. A four-year $40 million offer just wasn't enough to get the deal done between Johnny and the Sox. The question I'm left asking - other than who will bat leadoff and who will play center - is whether the Sox were caught flat footed and were blind sided by this, or whether they were aware of the Yankees offer and made an organizational decision that four years and $52 million was just too much for Damon's services.
The Sox knew that the Yankees were interested. Heck, anyone who was paying even modest attention knew that the Yanks would pursue Damon. It was widely reported that Yankee manager Joe Torre called Damon to solicit him last week. As we all know, Torre's boss usually gets what he wants. And once again, he did,
Incredibly, it was only earlier in the day that Co-GM Jed Hoyer said. "Our absolute priority is to bring Johnny back."
So either the Sox were blind sided, or their "absolute priority" just wasn't that important after all.
Now the attention turns to other alternatives.
Jeremy Reed, while speedy and possessing decent defensive skills, was rather pathetic with a bat in his hands last season. In 141 games, Reed managed just 3 homers, 45 RBI, and a paltry .254 average. Reed's OBP was just .322, largely because he only recorded 124 hits. And his 61 runs will hardly make up for Damon's loss.
The Yankees shied away from Preston Wilson because of injury problems, so the Sox are likely to be equally wary. And Juan Pierre became a Cub while the Sox were trying to retain Damon.
One option could be Devil Rays speedster Joey Gathright since the D-Rays have a glut of outfielders at present. In limited action that allowed him just 76 games, Gathright stole 20 bases but didn't manage to hit a single home run. A left-handed hitter, Gathright hit .276 with a .316 OBP. It's hard to tell how well he'd perform as an everyday player, but his numbers don't look like they would even come close to softerning the blow of Damon's loss.
The Sox have spoken to free agent Juan Encarnacion's representative about possibly coming to Boston. Encarnacion's numbers are certainly better than Reed's, but hardly inspiring. Also appearing in 141 games, Encarnacion totaled 16 homers, 76 RBI and a .287 average. The former Marlin's OBP was .349, but he scored just 59 runs while striking out 104 times. His six stolen bases won't exactly intimidate AL pitchers either. If that's not bad enough, he's a career .268 hitter who owns a career OBP of just .316. By his standards, last year was a good year. Encarnacion will be 30 on Opening Day.
If the Sox can make it happen, acquiring Cleveland outfielder Coco Crisp appears to be the best available option. But like everyone else, the Indians now know that they Sox are desperate, and will try to exact the heaviest price for sending Crisp to Boston.
The 26-year-old Crisp hit .300 this past season, to go along with 16 home runs and 69 RBI. Crisp managed 178 hits and 44 walks for a .345 OBP. He also possesses good speed, hitting 43 doubles and stealing 15 bases. Crisp can play all three outfield positions and, perhaps most importantly, can bat leadoff. Compare his numbers to Damon's last season, and the results are surprisingly pleasing. The two match up quite well.
Best of all, Crisp made just $365K last season and through arbitration will probably just double his salary, making him an incredibly affordable replacement. What will appeal to the Sox is that he won't be eligible for free agency for another four years. Incredibly, Crisp will likely cost about 6% of what Damon will cost the Yankees. That's very appealing indeed.
The Sox have important work to do. There's a gaping hole to make up for in the outfield, as well as in in the batting order. Let's just hope they have someone like Coco Crisp in mind, and not Jeremy Reed. God help us if that's the best they can do. If re-signing Damon was the Sox "absolute priority" leading up to today, that doesn't inspire confidence in any of us now that their new priority is to replace him.
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