Damon probably won’t be a Dodger in 2001, and so what
Monday the Kansas City Royals sent Johnny Damon, a 27-year-old center fielder and a super lead-off hitter, to the Oakland A’s. This crushed many media and fans’ hopes for the Los Angeles Dodgers making it to the playoffs in 2001. Although Damon would have filled some Dodgers’ shortcomings, the Dodgers can win and make the playoffs in 2001 without him. Again as Dodger fans, we must remember one player will not make or break a team.
One of the Dodgers’ primary shortcomings in 2000 was a lack of a productive lead-off hitter. Because the Dodgers have not obtained a player to fill this vacancy, many fans believe they will not have a good lead-off hitter. This may be faulty logic. Unlike Davey Johnson seemed to believe, a lead-off hitter does not have to be a center fielder. Eight Dodgers can lead off.
During spring training the Dodgers plan to work with Tom Goodwin on decreasing his strikeouts, and if they are successful, Goodwin will be an excellent lead-off hitter. Though Mark Grudzielanek does not like to and is a free swinger, he can lead off. Alex Cora is inexperienced but has good bat control that is essential to a lead-off hitter. Although both Chad Kreuter and Paul LoDuca are slow runners, they would be excellent lead-off hitters with their high on-base percentages. With the maturity that Adrian Beltre showed in the second half, he would make a good lead-off hitter. If the Dodgers would sacrifice power in the middle of their lineup, Shawn Green would make an excellent lead-off hitter. Before F. P. Santangelo became a Dodger, he had all of the skills to be a good lead-off hitter. Jim Tracy only needs to try out these players during spring training and see who is the best.
Damon is a good defensive center fielder. Though the Dodgers made the second most errors in the National League, they had good defense in center field after they obtained Tom Goodwin. Before August Davey Johnson platooned Devon White, Todd Hollandsworth, and Santangelo in center field. White’s age and desire adversely affect his defense. Because White has expressed that he does not want to be a Dodger and the Dodgers do not want him either, they probably will trade or release White by the end of spring training. Hollandsworth was never a center fielder and was traded for Goodwin. Santangelo was a good defensive center fielder though he did not play there much. Goodwin solidified the position and helped Shawn Green and Gary Sheffield to improve their defense.
When the Dodgers did not have to trade players to obtain Damon, they could use them for organizational depth. Reportedly the Royals wanted both Eric Gagne and Antonio Osuna for Damon. Gagne, 25, is a promising starter and probably can break into the Dodger rotation. If either Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort, Andy Ashby, or Ramon Martinez gets injured, Gagne is an excellent fill in. If the Dodgers can’t sign Park to a long term deal before spring training, they can trade him mid-through the season for something they need. Antonio Osuna is not the best Dodger reliever, but he is a great mop up guy. Now with a pitching shortage, teams should not give away quality young pitchers easily.
Of course, the Dodgers would have loved to have Johnny Damon as their center fielder and lead-off hitter in 2001, but it did not work out. The Dodgers should compete for their divisional title in the tough National League West. The 2001 season should be exciting for Dodger fans.