At the end of the 2010 season, the Tampa Bay Rays saw some of their greatest players walk away for greener pastures in free agency. Players such as Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena, and Carl Crawford, vital members of team that had just made the playoffs, all left for big contracts and the Rays, who were in the midst of cutting $30 million dollars from the payroll, now had to find low cost solutions.
While the Rays made several free agency moves to fill in the gaps on the roster, the biggest move by far was the signing of outfielder Johnny Damon. Damon, now age 37, was coming off of a subpar season with the Tigers and many felt he was beginning to slow down and would not be around the majors for much longer. Damon signed with the Rays and has silenced all of his critics so far this season.
In 2010 with the Detroit Tigers, Damon hit .271 with 8 home run and drove in 51 RBIs. He had an on-base percentage of .355 and a slugging percentage of .401. He walked 69 times and struck out 90 times, stealing 11 bases. While this was a solid year by all accounts, the numbers were a drop off from his seasons with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Entering the Spring with the Rays, skipper Joe Maddon and crew were hoping for similar numbers out of Damon, but he has already surpassed their expectations and continues to lead the ball club.
Damon is hitting .288 so far this season with 7 home runs and 32 RBIs. While his OBP is a bit lower, at .329 right now, his slugging percentage has increased to .441 and he has stolen 7 bases already, one third into the season.
Damon has led off for the Rays, hitting for power and average. He has also hit in the 2nd spot in the lineup and even clean up for Maddon as the Rays continue to juggle their batting order. Damon has battled every at-bat, reaching base safely in his last 33-games, a personal record. He has also provided several dramatic walk-off wins as well, helping the Rays stay competitive in the tough AL East.
While the 2011 season has been a struggle for the Rays so far as they try to rebuild after losing so many players, Damon has been there every step of the way doing everything he can both on and off the field to help the team. He has won over the locker room and continues to set the bar high for the rest of the team.
As the rest of the season looks to be an uphill battle for the Rays as they rebuild and use their farm system restock the major league club, Damon will continue to be a guiding force for the team, from the field to the locker room.