Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Red Sox Mistakes: Goodbye Johnny Damon, Hello JD Drew

At the end of the 2005 season, Johnny Damon's agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a seven-year contract valued at $84 million for his client. That amounted to an average annual salary of $12 million.

However, Red Sox officials (absent then departed GM Theo Epstein) made the strategic decision that Damon was not worth more than $40 million over four seasons. That was their best offer.

But the Yankees placed a higher value on Damon. They had no qualms with the annual salary; they just made a shorter-term offer of four-years, $52 million.

At the time, Damon was 32 and had just completed his tenth consecutive season of playing in at least 145 games. He was the picture of consistency.

Yet the Red Sox, sticking to their formula of placing a value on a player and not going over that limit, made what turned out to be a lowball offer. Despite whatever affinity they had for Damon, they weren't about to let emotion get in the way.

Their view was that Damon was an aging player, with a poor throwing arm, who would begin breaking down. But he was exceptionally popular with the fans, and they had to at least make an offer for PR purposes. In retrospect, it seems that the Red Sox just didn't really value Damon after all.

However, it turned out that the Yankees got plenty of value for their investment in the durable and consistent outfielder. Over four years in the Bronx, Damon's numbers are strikingly similar to those in his four years with Boston.

Damon played in 576 games with the Yanks, almost the same as the 597 he played in his four seasons with the Red Sox. He has exactly the same .362 OBP in both NY and Boston. He has 21 more Yankee homers and three more Red Sox RBIs. He has 5 more Sox stolen bases and the same 21 times caught stealing. His Red Sox batting average was 10 points higher, but his Yankee slugging average is 17 points higher.

But the year after letting Damon defect to their arch rival, the Red Sox did something very strange; they made a 5-year, $70 million offer to JD Drew that raised eyebrows throughout the sport. At the time, Drew was 31 and had played in as many as 140 games just twice in his eight full seasons in the Majors.

But he was praised for his perfect swing, his intangibles, and his "potential."

After three years in Boston, we're still waiting for all of that to materialize.

Over the last three years of a contract during which Red Sox officials believed Damon would be overpaid, Damon has more hits (467 to 355), runs scored (295 to 247) and RBIs (216 to 196), than Drew. And Damon has a nearly identical home run total (53 to 54).

Yet, Drew has made an average of $1 million more per season (Drew: $14 million, Damon: $13 million) and is signed for two more years. Damon, on the other hand, is now a free agent.

If the Red Sox had signed him to the same deal the Yankees offered, they would be out from under that contract right now. But considering his high level of play, Damon will once again be sought after.

Drew, on the other hand, is still under contract for two more years.

It's worth noting that the Red Sox rank 13th among the 14 American League teams in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot since Damon departed. Damon eventually became the no. 2 hitter for the Yankees, but he certainly would have been the ideal solution for the Red Sox in the three years prior to the ascension of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Despite the lack of faith by Sox brass, Damon had yet another productive season this year, hitting .282, with 155 hits, 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. His 107 runs were tied for fourth in the AL. Damon also had a healthy .365 on-base percentage.

And it was the 14th season in a row in which Damon played at least 140 games, a testament to his durability. The only players who have done that more frequently are Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson and Pete Rose (16 straight years) and Willie Mays (15).

On the other hand, Drew has played in 140 games in just one season for the Red Sox. And over the course of his 11-year career, Drew has averaged just 121 games per season.

This year, Drew batted .279, had 126 hits, 24 HR, 68 RBI and scored 84 runs,. If Red Sox fans weren't certain three years ago, they now know that Drew is not a premier hitter or run producer.

Drew reached 20 homers this year for just the fourth time in his career, but the first since 2006 when he was with the Dodgers. However, he has yet to drive in 100 runs, score 100 runs, or hit .300 as a member of the Red Sox.

Theo Epstein defends Drew by talking up his .879 OPS as a member of the Red Sox. But it's important to remember that Drew was brought to Boston to be a heart-of-the-order, no. 5 hitter.

Drew is a corner outfielder; and was not signed to simply get on base. Drawing walks is not the job of a no. 5 hitter. That job is to produce, to drive in runs.

Yet Drew does not do this particularly well; he has driven in 100 runs just once in his career, as a member of the Dodgers. Drawing a walk with men in scoring position doesn't cut it. Drew has never had 200 hits in a season, has drawn 100 walks just once, and scored 100 runs just once.

In August, Drew had his first ever two home run game, and just his second ever 4-for-4 game.

It makes you wonder what he'd ever done to earn, or deserve, his current contract from the Red Sox.

Though he came to Boston a year after Damon left, Drew hasn't made up for the loss created by Damon's departure.

Over the course of his 15-year career, Damon has 2,425 hits, 1,483 runs, 996 RBIs, 207 home runs, and 374 stolen bases.

Only five players - Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, and Joe Morgan - have compiled 2,500 hits, 1,500 runs, 1,000 RBIs, 225 home runs, and 400 stolen bases. Damon could very well join them next year.

While Damon makes a bid for the Hall of Fame, Drew will be remembered for his "perfect swing" and untapped potential.

Drew is a good fielder, who throws well and runs well. But he's never stolen more than 19 bases in any season, and that was 10 years ago. His offense, however, has been grossly over-rated by Theo Epstein.

And it's not just the relative absence of power either: Drew is a career .284 hitter; has never hit as many as 35 doubles in a season; never amassed 300 total bases; has drawn 100 walks just once; and has struck out at least 100 times in five seasons, including this year.

Over eleven full seasons, Drew has averaged 19 HR and 63 RBI. He simply isn't a serious run producer. Despite this, he is one of the highest paid outfielders in the game. And it was all predicated on a pretty slim resume.

Let's face it -- Drew just isn't a great player. One thing's for certain; he has always been over-rated, and he's certainly overpaid. Simply put, it's time to stop talking about his potential.

Drew has been in the Majors for over a decade and he's nearly 34 years old. The Red Sox have invested star money in a player who clearly isn't a star, and never will be. At this point he is what he is; an average player with an out-sized, undeserved contract.

So, the Red Sox and their fans are stuck with mediocrity for the next two years. That is, of course, unless the Red Sox are willing to eat some of his hefty salary after convincing some other team to give him more "time to develop."

Damon was not expected to be a power-hitter with the Sox. He was expected to get on base and score, which he did with regularity.

Drew, on the other hand, was brought to Boston to be the no. 5 hitter and to drive in runs. He was expected to be a productive offensive weapon, who would help drive the offense. This he has not done.

It's abundantly clear that the Red Sox would have been better off with Damon in their lineup these last four years, despite his weak arm. The money spent on Drew would have been better off allocated elsewhere.

Damon since 2006
576 games, 77 HR, 296 RBI, 1042 TB, .285 AVG., .457 SLG., 93 SB

Drew since 2006
532 games, 74 HR, 296 RBI, 872 TB, .278 AVG., .491 SLG. 12 SB

Damon since 2007
427 games, 53 HR, 216 RBI, 756 TB, ..285 AVG. .449 SLG., 68 SB

Drew since 2007
386 games, 54 HR, 196 RBI, 624 TB, .276 AVG., .488 SLG., 10 SB

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