Is Johnny Damon A Fit for Rays DH?

The designated hitter is generally thought of as a position of power. After all, the job description is simple – hit the ball. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Rays (and Devil Rays before them) have not had much success at the position. In fact, the most productive DH in the team’s history was Jose Canseco and that was over a decade ago.

While a power bat like Manny Ramirez or Jim Thome would be a better match for what the Rays need, the team should look for production first from the DH slot. Although he does not fit the physical profile, Johnny Damon could be the guy who fills the Rays’ vacancy. Despite his lack of home run power, Damon remains a productive offensive player even at the age of 37.

After a career power year in 2009 (largely influenced by the New Yankee Stadium) which included 24 home runs, Damon hit just eight home runs in 613 plate appearances with the Detroit Tigers last season. That said, he hit 36 doubles, five triples, and scored 80 runs.

In 2010, the collective Tampa Bay DH’s posted a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .238/.322/.391 with 50 extra-base hits. On his own, Damon hit .271/. 355/.401 with 49 extra-base hits. His batting average of .271 was below his .287 career average, but his .355 OBP was an exact replica of his career number. This is because he posted an above-average walk rate of 11.3% (league average is 8.5%). Damon only stole 11 bases last season, but is still a smart base runner and was among the better players at taking the extra base.

He may not be the prototype, or the answer to replacing the lost power of Carlos Pena, but the Rays are simply looking to upgrade the DH spot. With his on-base ability, gap power, as well as his familiarity and past success in the American League East, Johnny Damon could be that upgrade. As is the case with every free agent target, cost is key; however, Damon has expressed interest in playing for Tampa Bay in the past and may be willing to sacrifice some dollars for playing close to home.

A lot of the Rays success has been based on unconventional methods. Perhaps signing Johnny Damon as the primary DH will be the latest example.

via Rays Insider – 1040 ESPN Tampa.