Today, the Yankees signed an outfielder we once traded for a manager. That’s right, for a manager! The Yankees 2010 budget is now maxed out as they prepare to piss the other 29 fanbases off next year when they ink Joe Mauer and yes, Carl Crawford. I mean, come on, could they be any less transparent with a platoon of Randy Winn and Brett Gardner that they are just keeping left field warm for Crawford? With that signing, the relationship between Johnny Damon and the Yankees has officially ended and now Damon finds himself nearly alone on a free agent market that has nearly dried up. In December, his agent, the ever popular Scott Boras, declined a two-year deal from the Yankees for $14m so I would imagine Damon is a bit perturbed at his agent right now as Damon will be lucky to see a deal for even half of that this season. What better way to get back at the Yankees than come sign with the Rays to be the primary DH for 2010 and audition for another contract?
Pat Burrell currently fills the DH spot but I maintain that his $9m contract should not prevent the Rays moving him off the roster whether it be through some deal in which they eat a majority of the contract (Omar Minaya, are you listening?) or just flat out designating him for assignment. That $9m is a sunken cost into a part on the team that is not functioning well. Some may just call it simple regression but old man skills are tough to deny and if the Rays have a chance to upgrade the DH position with Damon, they should do it. The Rays are never going to get that $9m back for Burrell and they might even call it a success if he earns even half of that contract this year should he stay with the Rays.
I contend the Rays can act like a big market team and eat Burrell’s contract if they can sign Damon. At this point, Damon may end up being the 2009 Bobby Abreu both in the type of contract he ends up with and the production he gives on the field. The Rays have always been very private with their overall budget so the competition does not use it against them but the simple fact is the Rays do not enjoy the same revenue stream from the turnstiles as do the Yankees and Red Sox in this division. Sadly, it is not because of pricing or the lack of available seats as is the case in Boston or New York. Tropicana Field still has plenty of available seating most every night. There is ample room for the budget to grow simply by fans showing up for games. The average attendance per game spiked 5,200 from 2007 to 2008 but only 750 last season with the raise in ticket prices and the severe downturn in the economy.
In 2009, the average Rays ticket cost $18.35 to attend a game; for simplicity’s sake let’s assume that the average ticket price in 2010 will be $20. If the Rays can sign Damon to a one year deal at $4m to allow him to stick it to both of his former employers 38 times a season, where can the club make up that extra money that may or may not currently be in the payroll? Let’s assume the Rays are projecting an average attendance this year of 24,000 per game:
- If 500 more fans show up for each game this season – 500 x $20 x 81 = $810,000 = 20.25% of $4m
- If 750 more fans show up for each game this season – 750 x $20 x 81 = $1,215,000 = 30% of $4m
- If 1000 more fans show up for each game this season – 1000 x $20 x 81 = $,625,000 = 41% of $4m
Everyone follows a winner, but the Tampa Bay market is well known for its bandwagon personality. Even when the Rays were winning in 2008, it took fans a while to catch on and the attendance waned in 2009 when the club started slow out of the gate and then fell out of serious contention by mid August. If the club does well enough to generate that kind of attendance spike, they can offset a good portion of the increased costs it would take to add Damon and jettison Burrell in some manner and that cost would further be off-set with another post-season appearance. Of course, this would mean it is up to fans like me who want this move to happen to get their butts in seats at games more often this season.
Fangraphs projects Damon to be worth two more wins than Burrell in the 2010 season. I have seen projections with the Rays winning 90 games and the Red Sox winning 93 on paper which highlights the importance of every win in 2010. Adding Damon’s speed under Maddon’s lead foot on the basepaths improves the Rays lineup and gives them more trade flexibility in July if the season falls apart as Damon would most certainly be an attractive trade target for contenders at mid-season. I think if ownership was seriously entertaining talking to Orlando Hudson at second base, they should revisit the couch cushions and find the extra coin it would take to bring Damon in. The club has a rather good relationship with Scott Boras as it is and those two parties will likely be talking often this season anyhow as they figure out Carlos Pena’s future. 2010 is shaping up to be an all-in type of season with how Boston and New York are shaking up their roster – it is time for the Rays to up the ante to stay in this game.