Damon expresses interest in Tigers
Free-agent outfielder would add veteran left-handed bat
DETROIT -- Johnny Damon would like to come to the Motor City, which makes sense in his situation. The Tigers would have interest in adding a left-handed hitter and some offense to their lineup.
Damon's agent, Scott Boras, confirmed to MLB.com over the weekend that Damon has an interest in joining the Tigers, something that has been widely presumed over the past couple weeks as the free-agent market has unfolded and a return to the Yankees became less likely. Boras said much the same to the Detroit News on Monday, and that he sees a fit in Detroit, where rookie center fielder Austin Jackson is expected to get the first chance to fill the leadoff void in Spring Training, and where the everyday lineup is predominantly right-handed except for Carlos Guillen, and where there remains some uncertainty in left field.
"Johnny believes the addition of him to Detroit's lineup would make the Tigers a winner," Boras told the paper.
Among the reasons for Boras to feel that way are Damon's track record of team success over the past six years, including World Series titles with the Red Sox in 2004 and the Yankees last fall. He has played in the postseason six times in the last seven years between Boston and New York, and went to the playoffs in 2001 in his only season with Oakland.
Damon's numbers batting second with the world champion Yankees last year included a .282 average, 107 runs, 36 doubles, 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. His .854 OPS was his highest since 2004 in Boston. Nineteen of those homers came in new Yankee Stadium, which became known as friendly for power to left-handed hitters.
While Comerica Park is better for left-handed power hitters than right-handers, it can't compete with the Bronx for baseballs leaving the yard. Damon owns a .363 career batting average and .961 OPS at Comerica Park, but a good portion of that came earlier in his career against a Tigers pitching staff that struggled in the first half of the decade. He's still batting .325 (13-for-40) there over the last three years.
Of greater relevance could be the more traditional leadoff stats. Damon's 71 walks resulted in a .365 on-base percentage, about the same as Curtis Granderson in 2008.
While Damon's lingering saga on the market has become one of baseball's bigger stories in the final weeks before Spring Training, of the remaining clubs linked or rumored to Damon, the Tigers would appear to be the most logical fit for him. So far, though, that hasn't resulted in anything close to a deal.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last month, when Damon rumors first popped up, that he had not expressed interest. When asked again last week, after Damon rumors lingered, Dombrowski said in an e-mail that he had nothing to add.
Indications point to some level of recent contact between Boras and the Tigers. Otherwise, the Damon saga would be a dead issue. But there would have to be more substantive talks to get a deal done.
Boras' recent history with the Tigers is well-known. He has a track record of pointing clients toward Detroit that essentially began with Ivan Rodriguez in 2004 and continued with Magglio Ordonez a year later. A more subtle finding was left-handed reliever Bobby Seay, who signed with the Tigers as a Minor League free agent after the 2005 season.
Rodriguez and Ordonez both signed long-term contracts that helped give the Tigers credibility in the marketplace and veteran talent on the field after 119 losses in 2003. Detroit is in a different position now, though, having come within a one-game tiebreaker of an American League Central title last year and watching its payroll numbers closely as the economy changes.
The Tigers lose a lot of payroll next winter on expiring contracts, which gives them some flexibility. But any addition of Damon, whether or not money was backloaded, would clearly be geared toward winning now.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.