Apparently, the Orioles are looking at Johnny Damon according to CBS' Jon Heyman. I've seen some mixed reactions to this, and, as an Orioles fan, I feel the need to defend it. Not because the front office is perfect or anything, just because it's not necessarily a bad move.
It's easy to compare this to the Vladimir Guerrero signing last year, which went rather poorly. I don't think that's quite fair, though. Last year, the corner spots were rather crowded:
1B: Derrek Lee/Mark Reynolds
3B: Mark Reynolds/Josh Bell
LF: Luke Scott/Nolan Reimold
(RF: Nick Markakis)
DH: Vladimir Guerrero/Luke Scott/Mark Reynolds
First, Markakis wasn't going anywhere. Mark Reynolds was nominally a third baseman, but he was nowhere good enough to stay at the position (and he conclusively proved that, putting up a -28.2 defensive WAR in 2011, according to Fangraphs). Josh Bell proved he wasn't anywhere near ready for the Majors, hitting a .758 OPS in AAA as a 24-year-old.
That doesn't look too inspiring. Derrek Lee was shipped off to Pittsburgh mid-season, and I think the team would sooner bring back Cal Ripken to try his hand at first than reacquire Lee for 2012. Luke Scott has moved on to Tampa, so he's out of the picture. Meanwhile, the team traded for Chris Davis last year, a corner infielder, and Vlad's a free agent again.
All of that means that the 2012 corner spots look like this:
1B: Mark Reynolds/Chris Davis
3B: Chris Davis/Josh Bell?
LF: Nolan Reimold
(RF: Still Markakis)
DH: Nolan Reimold?/Mark Reynolds?
So, the team does still have holes. And, as far as I'm aware, the team doesn't have any corner prospects forcing their way into the majors right now, so the team should either be looking at placeholder free agents or looking to acquire young players from other teams. Ideally, the Orioles should be looking at prospects in a trade.
However, I doubt many other teams would be willing to trade major-league ready prospects; those usually cost a premium. It's not like the Orioles need them soon anyway. So, really, they need a placeholder.
Where should said placeholder go? Well, the DH slot would be the most convenient. Davis and Reynolds aren't great fielders, but the Orioles should at least try them at third and first to see if they can make it. Aim high on them, and let them prove they can't handle those positions; don't move them off preemptively.
What should the Orioles do about their DH for 2012?
The Orioles aren't built to compete in 2012 anyway.Sign a one-year DH, and if both of them need to be moved to easier positions, the slots will be open in 2013. Reimold has left field as of now. So yeah; DH it is.
And Johnny Damon was actually decent last year. As the Rays' DH last season, he put up a 110 OPS+ and was good for 2.8 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. For comparison, Vlad hit 101 and was worth 0.1 WAR. So Damon is definitely an improvement. And I guess it won't hurt that he has some name recognition; like I said, the team isn't competing this year and doesn't have any prospects demanding playing time.
If they think Damon will bring in a little extra cash, then what the heck. This has no real bearing on the Orioles signing him, but it will put Damon a term in Canada away from playing for every AL East team, which I think is interesting. Worst case scenario, he may serve as trade bait come July (although I'm not positive how the new collective bargaining agreement affects this as of right now, so don't quote me on this).
Anyway, the main takeaway is that if the Orioles think they can get Damon for a reasonable price ($4-6 million/year), then it won't be a horrible move. The rest of the remaining hitters aren't exactly attractive options (except Prince Fielder, but the Orioles are too far from competing to be throwing large contracts at superstars right now), and the Orioles do need someone to fill their DH spot. Damon might be the best short term option left.
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