Braves still not actively pursuing Damon
Well it looks like National Signing Day will conclude without Johnny Damon knowing where he’s going to be playing this year. But it still certainly appears that Atlanta isn’t in his immediate future.
Instead of taking the negligent route of saying there is absolutely no way the Braves eventually sign Damon, I will acknowledge that this landscape could be quickly altered if one of Atlanta’s outfielders were to suffer an injury during the early days or weeks of camp.
Or maybe there will come a time when Damon would be willing to accept the $1-2 million the Braves might be willing to offer. But this seems doubtful given the likelihood that the Blue Jays or Tigers would seemingly be willing to provide something greater.
After a brief exchange with a team source again this morning, it was evident that the Braves still aren’t actively pursuing Damon.
Placed in the same situation two years ago, when the 36-year-old Damon still had the youthful legs that provided him great range in center and the ability to sweep bags with regularity, the Braves might have shown some interest.
Of course the price tag wouldn’t have been the same either.
At the end of the day, the only reason the Braves would have interest in Damon is to allow him to serve as the leadoff hitter that they lack. But while hitting .284 with a .349 on-base percentage and .446 slugging percentage on the road last year, did he really provide the confidence that he will be productive in this role.
Another alarming stat comes from the fact that he attempted to steal just 12 bases last year. Over the course of the previous three seasons, he had averaged 34 attempts. Was this a sign of age or just a product of the fact that he had been dropped down one spot, out of the leadoff role in a Yankees lineup that had plenty of middle-of-the-lineup power?
While hitting in the leadoff spot last year, Nate McLouth hit .260 with a .354 OBP and .426 SLG. In his 82 plate appearances as hit team’s first batter, McLouth hit .173 with a .244 OBP and .320 SLG. In 183 PAs leading off an inning, he hit .204/.273/.365.
These numbers don’t provide reason to believe McLouth is capable of serving as a consistently reliable table setter. But the gritty outfielder serves as the club’s best source of speed. Without the hamstring problems he battled during the final two months of the season, he would have likely swiped more than 25 bags.
Because of his speed, it makes sense to keep McLouth in the leadoff spot. Likewise, because of his ability to hit in clutch situations, it makes sense to continue providing Yunel Escobar an opportunity to hit in the fifth or sixth spots of the order.
But I think you can also argue that it makes the most sense to put Escobar in the leadoff role. Remember this argument proved futile over the course of the past two years, when Kelly Johnson’s name was being placed in the leadoff role.
In 75 career starts as a leadoff hitter, Escobar has batted .309 with a .371 OBP and .428 SLG. In the 75 PAs he’s totaled as his club’s first batter of the game, these stats are .411/.427/ .616. In 360 PAs leading off an inning, these numbers are .312/.364/.423.
Given that Escobar has hit .337 in his career with runners in scoring position, it would be tough to put him in a spot where he’d often come to the plate with the bases empty. But at the same time, he provides reason to wonder if he would be the club’s best catalyst at the top of the lineup.
My Projected Lineup w/ Escobar in the leadoff spot:
Separated at birth? A few years ago, I asked Frank Wren if anybody had ever told him he looked and sounded like ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. At that time, he told me they both sent their kids to suburban Atlanta’s Landmark Christian Academy.
Since then, I’ve seen fewer physical resemblences. But when I awoke this morning with the television on, I could have sworn I heard Frank talking to me about something that Peyton Manning or Drew Brees was going to do this weekend.
Listen to Mort as this week progresses and tell me if I need to get my ears checked. Here’s a clip of Frank’s voice.