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Holloway: Do not break the bank for Damon
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Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Contact him at
If you’ve been paying attention this week, you’ve no doubt heard that the Atlanta Braves are pursuing free agent outfielder Johnny Damon.

The consensus among fans seems to be that Damon is a must-have addition.

I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but the pursuit will be telling of how the Braves truly feel about their chances in 2010.

So far, general manager Frank Wren is putting up a take-it-or-leave-it front to Damon and his agent, Scott Boras. He’s said the
Braves improved during the offseason, but it’s hard to figure exactly how since the team’s best pitcher in 2009, Javier Vazquez, was traded to the Yankees for prospects and a part-time outfielder.

The Braves’ other marquee acquisition — if you can call it that — was oft-injured, erstwhile slugger Troy Glaus.

Regardless of what Wren says, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t know that this is a middling team, at least in 2010. That’s not to
say the Braves have no hope this year. If their patchwork foundation holds together through May, and Wren can sew the holes
tight through trades, this might even be the team that breaks the four-year postseason drought.

But if the Braves are serious about contending on opening day, you’ll know because they’ll chase Damon a little more doggedly.

If the terms are right, meaning a one-year deal, there’s little doubt Damon would be a wise acquisition. And that’s what most published reports have the Braves offering: one-year, $5 million. That’s a bargain for a player still in possession of Damon’s blend of power, speed and top-of-the-lineup savvy.

Last season in New York, he posted career-best in home runs (24) and RBIs (82). True, the hitter-friendly confines of the New
Yankee Stadium had something to do with that, but even on the road, his numbers put him on pace for 14 home runs, a .282 batting average and a solid on-base percentage.

Detractors are quick to point out the famously bad arm that earned Damon the reputation for looking like Jesus and throwing like Mary during his tenure with the Red Sox. True, he can’t throw, but advanced fielding statistics show that he can still cover enough ground to remain, at worst, an average left fielder.

Put simply, he’d be an improvement for the Braves at the top of the lineup, and he couldn’t be any worse in the field than that season-long defensive charade we were exposed last season in left.

But is he worth the two-year deal Boras is demanding?

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Throughout the offseason, Wren’s moves have seemed to be geared toward freeing up money and creating a winner in 2011.

He passed on Adam Laroche in favor of Glaus in order to avoid a multi-year deal. To save money, he opted to re-sign Tim
Hudson and trade away Vazquez. Both Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito were signed to one-year deals.

All of which puts the Braves in position for an overhaul — or a tweaking, if that’s all that’s needed — in 2011. By then Freddy
Freeman should be ready to assume first-base duties, Jason Heyward could be the National League Rookie of the Year, and Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens could be one of the best one-two pitching combos in the league.

And lots of money will be coming off the Braves’ books. Money Wren can use to craft a team built for the long haul.
Isn’t that preferrable to scrambling to turn an 84-win team into 90-win team year after year?

So if the Braves let Damon walk without upping their offer, even at the expense of 2010, they’ll be doing it with an eye toward the future. Which, depending on how you feel about their chances this year, may or may not be a sin.

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