On January 22, 2014, the Philadelphia Phillies brought back outfielder Bobby Abreu on a minor-league deal, reuniting a bond that started in 1998 and ended eight years ago in 2006 when he was traded to the New York Yankees.
Abreu last played in Major League Baseball in 2012 for both of Los Angeles' teams, the Angels and Dodgers. Combined he batted .242 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in a total of 100 games played. His .350 on-base percentage was the lowest in his career since 1997, playing for the Houston Astros.
Seeing no interest from clubs in 2013, Abreu still fought hard this offseason in the Venezuelen Winter Leagues to earn a contract for 2014. There, he batted .322 with a .416 on-base percentage in 50 games, and arguably turned many heads throughout baseball of whom all believed his playing-days were all but over.
Then of course, the Phillies thought differently, giving him the chance to compete in his 18th Major League season if signed-on to the 40-man roster at the conclusion of Spring Training.
While it is nice to see Abreu wear the red-pinstripes once again, it is hard to ignore the other options that were and now still out there that may have brought more to the table than the 39 year-old outfielder. One of these options that has a similar storyline to Abreu's is Johnny Damon, 40, who despite not playing since 2012 with the Cleveland Indians still desires to return to baseball according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Damon has slightly better capabilities than Abreu, for one instance speed. Speed is where the Phillies are lacking most right now in depth, and it is crucial for late in-game situations when a pinch runner is needed to bring the tying and/or go-ahead run home.
You might remember Damon's speed the most as a member of the 2004 Red Sox, but especially when he put a dagger in the Phillies fans' hearts during Game 4 of the 2009 World Series. With Mark Teixeria batting in the top of the ninth with Damon on first and two outs of a 4-4 tied game, the Phillies incorporated a Howard-like defensive shift where the third-base bag was left open. Damon stole second, and during the same play stole third with no one covering. This caused Brad Lidge to lose his confidence, and Damon scored the eventual go-ahead and game-winning run as the Yankees topped the Phils, 7-4.
In addition, the Phillies signing Abreu over Damon made them lose-out on the leadership that he would have brought to the table, something they desperately need moving forward. While with his stay with the Cleveland Indians in 2012, teammate Michael Brantley spoke of the role he brought to their clubhouse when their team too lacked a voice:
“He [Damon] came in and was talking to the young guys right away. He’s given us a little perspective on what it takes to stay here, the mental grind. He’s just always real positive. We always admired him and looked up to him, watching him on TV and how hard he played."
Both Damon and Abreu haven't played professionally since 2012, and have had a long track-record for being bad out in the field. Who knows, maybe Abreu will turn out to be the better signing for the club.
When Jim Thome was brought back to the Phillies in 2012, the team struggled to find at-bats for the future Hall of Famer which ultimately was a disservice for the rest of his career that he had in him. Abreu, has said he's simply glad to be back with the Phillies and will take any role given to him.
Before getting too far ahead, the 2005 Home Run Derby champion still has to earn his spot on the roster before anything. We'll see how he fares with his competition starting this Wednesday, 1:05 pm EST, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Matt Rappa is a contributor to Philliedelphia. Follow him on Twitter @mattrappa