These are the types of decisions that make teams like the Rays, the Rays. There is a player who performed well for your team last year. He adds leadership and postseason experience to a team that, although it has a lot of wins over the last few years, is still young in a lot of places. Did I mention he is in love with the area and has an established, active presence in the community, through numerous charitable efforts?
That player is Johnny Damon, and to a lot of franchises the above listed set of circumstances would make writing something like this completely meaningless. What stands out in this case is his desire to stay in Tampa and continue his career with the Rays. He has made it clear throughout the season and in subsequent interviews that he really does want to be here. That is something the Rays have to take into account with any signing. It takes the right kind of players to make this work and a lot of what the Rays do is built around the complete team concept.
Damon did not have spectacular numbers, but he was solid in his first season in Tampa. He batted .261 in 150 games and had 73 RBI. At 37, soon to be 38, he still has pretty good pop and decent speed. He had 16 homers and threw in 19 stolen bases. Perhaps a bigger testament to his speed is his efficiency on the base paths, not just his ability to steal bases.
There is no doubt that the Rays should, and probably want, to keep Damon around for at least another year. There are two big questions they have to ask themselves. Do they want a DH who only hit 16 home runs last year? Can they afford to pay to keep him? The Rays were average in terms of power in the American League last year. They hit 172 homers which was sixth in the league, and was actually 12 more than they hit in 2010. The one problem they face is that of the five teams that had more homers than the Rays, four are their fellow AL East rivals. As for the money, well the Rays financial situation almost goes without saying. I was kind of surprised to read that Damon was the highest paid player on the Rays roster this year. While he would not maintain that status, he certainly would be in the top fourth of salaries going into 2012.
I think Damon belongs with the Rays if they can get him at a better price than last year. He is aging but is still a good producer to have in the lineup. He fits what the Rays are trying to do, running and scrapping to put together rallies and score runs, instead of relying on home runs. As much as Damon says he would like to be here, it would be a shame if they can’t work out some way to make that happen.