With position players set to hit spring training next week, Johnny Damon still finds himself among a group of aging stars who don't have gigs for 2012.
And unlike Vladimir Guerrero or Hideki Matsui, the shape of his aging body isn't the main concern. Rather, it's said that Damon's close proximity to 3,000 career hits is part of what's scaring teams away from what would otherwise be a valuable piece for depth: A veteran left-handed presence who can steal an occasional base and still play the outfield.
In a Wednesday morning column, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that Damon's decreased plate discipline as he swings away in an attempt to collect 277 more hits is scaring away potential suitors, including the New York Yankees.
Executives from three teams that had interest in Damon expressed concerns a fixation with 3,000 has diminished an attribute that greatly contributed to the perception of Damon as a winning player: patient, tough at-bats. And statistics appear to confirm the criticism.
Damon's batting average dropped 10 points from 2010 to 2011, but his on-base average fell a more dramatic 29 points to .326 from .355, his career average entering last year. His walk percentage fell to 7.9 per 100 plate appearances after he had averaged 10.7 over the previous five years, never falling below 10.0.
Sherman's take is far from a mid-February tabloid fodder fueled by the observations of one anonymous scout. DRaysBay was on Damon's newfound impatience as early as late last July and Damon's plate discipline page on Fangraphs backs it all up.
At the same time, it'd be folly to suggest that Damon won't pick up a job for this season. He still has more to offer than some of the other bats out there and it's unlikely he'll give up his quest for 3,000 just because his role or salary won't be what he might have envisioned them to be.