What in the wide world happened to Johnny Damon this offseason?
And even to a lesser extent, Felipe Lopez.
When I originally started to type this feature up, I was almost sure Scott Boras was going to royally jam Damon into the corner. Then the Detroit Tigers went ahead and ruined a large portion of my argument.
However, I still think there is enough ammunition to at least put a few holes in the Boras balloon.
The Yankees reportedly were willing to bring Damon back with a two year deal with a total salary around $14 million early in the offseason. After that idea was set aside by Damon, time wore on, the Yankees and other teams began signing outfielders, Damon’s realistic salary kept dropping.
Scott Boras is big on coming out with some ridiculous first numbers in terms of salary and years. In this instance that expectation for his client hurt him in years, but not exactly in salary.
If what the Yankees were offering was in fact a real offer, then Damon actually came out ahead in terms of salary per season, as he ended up signing a one-year deal with Detroit that is worth about eight million dollars.
At one point though, it looked like Damon would either be retiring, or accepting a contract well below his expectations.
The Yankees response to Damon’s demands was the signing of Randy Winn for a little over a million and also adding Marcus Thames on a minor league deal. Both cheap alternatives and perhaps it will be just as effective as giving the 36-year-old what he wanted.
Felipe Lopez fired Boras and didn’t sign until the very end of February and Jarrod Washburn is still without uniform. Washburn may be older and teams may be more reluctant to invest in him, but Felipe Lopez is 29-years-old and coming off a year in which he hit .310 between Milwaukee and Arizona.
Not only was it the best hitting year of his career, it was also one of the most worked as he had 680 plate appearances. And you mean to tell me it took him until every team reported to spring training for him to land a job?
No wonder Lopez rid himself of Boras’ services. In this economic climate, when Russell Branyan turns down an eight-million dollar deal, despite finishing the year with injury concerns, you need to take what you can get.
Boras will still get his big-money clients their payout because Matt Holliday is a wanted commodity that will put up the big time numbers. But where he is struggling is with the Johnny Damons of the world. No one wants to overpay these older veterans with declining or marginal talent with big salaries or long-term commitments.
I’m disappointed the Detroit Tigers felt they needed to shell out the eight-million they did to get Damon. It would have been a big hit towards Boras and his ego. It would have been a nice punch in the face from reality that teams aren’t putting up with these ridiculous negotiation tactics and demands.
I guess we can take a little bit of hope away with Washburn not signing and Lopez firing Boras, but the big ticket was Damon, because he was the biggest name.
Value Free Agent Signings and the Impact of the Economy
This economy and the financial state of baseball have caused some wacky scenarios.
Jermaine Dye is still out of work and isn’t close to joining a team anytime soon. Players who would have signed richer deals a few years ago aren’t signing until the start of spring training. The only ones still making the same bank that they would have in 2006 or 2007 are the big names.
Teams are being a lot more responsible with the money they throw around. A few years ago, did anyone think Texas could nab Vladimir Guerrero for $6 million on a one year contract?
Older players are feeling the effects of not getting longer term deals because clubs aren’t budging on those demands. They don’t know what will happen year to year and paying someone to be cut after the first year isn’t financially responsible.
With that, here are some of the free agents that signed this offseason that could turn out to be value grabs for the team that picked them up.
Matt Capps signed a $3.5 million deal with Washington for one season. The former Pirates closer could come in knowing he has one year to prove himself as a closer and do some good things.
The Nationals made a lot of moves this offseason, but the signing of Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year deal worth $2 million could be either the brightest or stupidest of the bunch.
Signing guys like Wang to these types of contracts are smart for some teams, but is it for the Nationals? $2 million may not be a lot for some teams, but for a club that isn’t expected to compete in its division? If Wang turns it around and earns himself a long-term contract do you think he’ll keep Washington in mind when it comes to re-signing?
After not striking a deal with Bengie Molina or Yorvit Torrealba, the Mets grabbed Rod Barajas at a cheap $500,000 price tag. Sure he could earn as much as $2 million by the end of the year, but if he does, then it would have been worth it. For as much money the Mets are paying other players, they could use the value from the catching spot.
Kiko Calero was one of the more underrated relief pitchers last year, yet he didn’t sign until well after spring began. On top of that, he signed a minor league deal, which doesn’t guarantee him a roster spot with the Mets. He could earn over $1 million if he makes the club and does well, but like the Barajas signing, if he does, it would be worth it.
See Calero, for an example of how the Florida Marlins work with these minor league deals to veteran relief pitchers. Mike MacDougal , who saved 20 games for Washington last year, could be the next Marlins turnaround. Or it could be one of the other relievers they signed to minor league deals, Seth McClung, Derrick Turnbow, or Jose Veras.
I mentioned Vladimir Guerrero earlier and the one year $6.5 million deal he struck with Texas. 2009 was the first year besides 1997 that Vlad didn’t play in more than 100 games.
You figure the Rangers will restrict him to the designated hitter spot, keeping him fresh. If that’s the case, Vlad could turn out to be one of the most valuable signings of the offseason.
I’m a big fan of Ryan Garko , so it pained me to see things not work out in San Francisco. I thought Garko might have to settle for a minor league deal, but Seattle stepped up and signed him to a one year contract worth a little over a half a million dollars. I think Garko is a dark horse to grab a lot of first base at-bats and be a capable hitter.
Seattle had a busy offseason signing Chone Figgins, getting Cliff Lee and Eric Byrnes, and signing a few players to extensions. Erik Bedard has been a disappointment for the Mariners due to health, but they won’t pay him this year unless he stays healthy and it could be their smartest sign.
It reminds me a lot of the Carl Pavano deal from 2009, with a little more money involved based on performance.
Mark Grudzielanek was virtually out of the game last year due to injuries, but he’s resurfaced in Cleveland after a failed stint with the Twins towards the end of 2009. He’s a career .290 hitter over the span of 14 years and also has a Gold Glove to his name.
At a minor league salary, even though he will just be a backup, he could provide a lot of value.
Like Grudzielanek at his old stomping grounds, Omar Vizquel could provide a lot of value in other ways. At a salary of $1.3 million, Chicago got themselves a guide for the young players who can backup every position on the infield and play solid defense.
I also like the idea of paying Andruw Jones no more than half a million if he stinks, but also no more than an additional million if he lights the world on fire. That could be a fantastic bargain.
There are a lot of these types of bargains to be had out there, especially in this economic state of baseball when teams are getting more value for their dollar.
"2010 MLB Manifesto" is a part of a month-long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "2010 MLB Manifesto ," other features, and a schedule, click here .