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Minnesota Twins Debate: Eric Byrnes vs. Johnny Damon

Jeremiah GravesAnalyst IJanuary 21, 2010

“The Minnesota Twins should sign Eric Byrnes.”


That was the general thesis statement of the article I wrote yesterday.


In reaction to that article, the fine folks at “Baseball Musings” posed a good question.


“Why Byrnes if you could sign Johnny Damon for well below his value?”


It is a solid question and being that it was in response to my original article; I might as well be the one to answer it, so here it goes:


Eric Byrnes is a better free agent signing than Johnny Damon for four simple reasons.


The first reason is the easiest to debate: the overall investment.


Earlier this offseason Johnny Damon was rumored to be seeking a three or four-year deal, valued at no less than $13 million per season. An underdeveloped market has reportedly lowered his demands to something in the neighborhood of a two-year, $20 million deal.


If Damon is indeed stuck on a multi-year agreement, I can’t see the Twins wanting to lock up an aging, decline-phase Damon when the farm system is loaded with top outfielders like Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales, and Max Kepler.


Even if Damon were to suddenly give in and accept a deal similar to the one Bobby Abreu received last offseason (one-year, $5 million) he’d still require an investment more than 12 times higher than Byrnes, who would be signing for the league minimum.


The second reason is playing time.


As currently comprised, the Twins appear committed to Delmon Young in left field.


Young, despite all his faults, made some big strides at the end of 2009 and—based on the one-year, $2.6 million deal he received earlier this week—has earned at least one more chance to prove that he can be Minnesota’s left fielder of the future.


His overall numbers in Minnesota have been disappointing to say the least, especially given that he was once touted as a lock for 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases every year.


He has obviously fallen short of those projections, but the Twins—in an effort to show that the cost of Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett was worth it—aren’t ready to give up on Young quite yet.


Undoubtedly, 2010 will be a make or break year for Young. Relegating him to a bench role in favor of Damon would only further derail any chance Young has of becoming a legitimate everyday left fielder.


Both Byrnes and his agent have made it clear that the charismatic outfielder’s future is as a part-time player. That awareness would allow Byrnes to shift into the clubhouse without creating any controversy and disturbing the oft-revered harmony that exists within the Twins’ locker-room.


The third reason Byrnes makes more sense is lineup balance.


Although Damon is the superior hitter, the Twins' lineup is already chock full of left-handers.


Inserting Damon into the two-hole—his primary batting position last season in New York—would give the Twins four straight lefties atop the lineup. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but allows for opponents to exploit matchups far more than a balanced lineup.


Byrnes is a right-hander who, despite slightly diminished skills, can still rake against left-handed pitching and has respectable speed on the bases.


My fourth, and final, reason that the Twins would be wise to sign Byrnes over Damon is one of the most obvious: defense or a lack thereof by Damon.


Damon’s ability to play center field is non-existent and was, in his prime, below average. His overall defensive rating in left field last season was below average as well.


Byrnes, despite losing a few steps over the years, is still a strong corner outfielder who can play center field in a pinch. He fits the prototypical fourth-outfielder model much better than Delmon Young, who would undoubtedly be relegated to the role if Damon were signed.


In the end, I’d much rather have Byrnes as a fourth-outfielder for the league minimum and take my odds on Delmon Young in left at $2.6 million than drop $5 million-plus on a decline-phase Johnny Damon.

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