The big news story for the New York Yankees this week was the signing of outfielder Andruw Jones. Jones has been in the majors for 15 seasons, the first 12 with the Atlanta Braves, and he has hit over 17 home runs in 13 of them. A once intimidating force in the batter’s box, Jones has struggled the past 3 seasons, putting up .158, .214 and .230 batting averages with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox respectively. Except for his time in LA, he has maintained his strong home run totals, hitting 36 total the past 2 seasons in just 189 games played. The Yankees chose Jones as their 4th outfielder, amid speculation Johnny Damon might be the guy to return to the Big Apple. Despite not joining the Yankees, Damon is now exploring other AL East venues, reportedly close to a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
If the rumors are true and Damon joins the Rays, he will have played for the AL East’s top 3 teams since 2005. The lefty outfielder can’t seem to get enough of the East coast and will likely be a DH and outfielder for the Rays, who could use another bat or two in their lineup. Although Damon is certainly climbing the baseball age-scale quickly at 37, he is familiar with his competition, which will help him feel comfortable and succeed right away. The one overlooked quality that Damon brings to the table is endurance. He plays through injuries and has not played in less than 141 games since his August call-up in his rookie season (1995). The Rays are hoping his 8 home run, .271 average last season was a fluke and Damon can return to his high .280, 15 home run, 70 rbi self.
You can debate the merit of both of these guys, but ultimately, they fill important roles for their respective teams. The Yankees needed another bat off the bench and a guy who could spell some of their outfielders against left-handed pitchers and the Rays needed a strong veteran bat to DH and play outfield, as needed. One of the most under-rated pieces of a successful club is their bench. Players will get injured and you need to have top-level guys to step in and maintain a high-level of performance. Both Jones and Damon have been up to bat in big situations throughout their career and they have a combined 130 games of post-season experience with 540 plate appearances to their names. Not too shabby.
It will be interesting to watch the progression of these 2 guys this season. They are both getting older and have lost their starting roles, but they are fierce competitors who want to win. If they can stay healthy, their presence in the clubhouse and on the field will make life just a little bit harder for the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.