January 14th, 2010

Closer's in. Now what? Damon?

damon.jpgNow that the Tigers have agreed to terms with closer Jose Valverde, they’re expected to take one more look at upgrading their offense. If they’re going to make an upgrade, it’s most likely going to be in the outfield.If they’re going to go for an outfielder, it’ll be interesting to see if they give a long look at Johnny Damon to fill the one or two spot.

The pending arrival of Valverde had barely settled in when SI.com’s Jon Heyman suggested via Twitter that the Tigers could be “in play” for Damon, then said on MLB Network that the two sides are talking.

While there’s been contact between Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, and the Tigers, a source indicated talk has been preliminary because a closer has been the Tigers’ priority.

Offense now moves up on the list. And we’ll see if Damon’s brand of offense fits the Tigers’ needs well enough for them a take a shot at another veteran in an outfielder that has a couple of them already.

Take age and money out of consideration and go on hitting credentials, and there’s statistically a complement. As Heyman pointed out, Damon has hit up a storm at Comerica Park, batting .363 for his career with a .550 slugging percentage and a .961 OPS.

Keep it in perspective. A lot of those hits came in the first half of his career, including his start with the Royals. But the last three years, when he had only one series a season here, he still hit, going 13-for-40 (.325) with seven runs scored, two homers and five RBIs.

Of greater relevance to the Tigers now might be his fit at or near the top of the order. He batted second almost exclusively last year after spending most of his career in the leadoff spot, and the shift translated well to him.

The home run numbers are relative because of the lefty power-friendly new Yankee Stadium — 17 of his 24 homers came at home — but his 36 doubles were evenly split between home and road. He hit better away from home (.284) than he did in the Bronx (.279), and his average on balls put in play was 50 points higher road than home (.330-.280). He isn’t the same burner he once was on the bases, but he’s smart — 12-for-12 on steal attempts, +18 in Bill James’ baserunning analysis. He has drawn at least 60 walks in 11 of the last 12 years, 71 last season while batting in a stacked lineup.

Whether first or second, an experienced top of the order guy could allow the Tigers to fit in one of their younger players better in the other spot.

His throwing arm, well, evokes memories of Rondell White, which could be a problem in that big of an outfield. His legs still cover ground. He didn’t play center at all last year, so it’s hard to consider him anything more than a spell or a complement for Austin Jackson in center. But he could also be a veteran presence, not that the Tigers don’t have that already with a few guys such as Adam Everett.

Offensively, you can make a very good case that the Tigers can use Damon. But there would have to be a middle ground between them on a contract. The one bright side is that it wouldn’t take a long-term commitment, supposedly one or two years, and it’s tough to see a lot of competition right now, though reports suggest the Braves are interested.

I can’t say where Damon fits into the plan for payroll, because it’s hard to see where the plan is right now. But you can see where he could fit on the field and why this could be an opportunity for both sides.

Source: Tigers, Valverde agree to terms

The Tigers are poised to sign the veteran closer they hoped to add. They agreed to terms Thursday with Jose Valverde on a two-year contract with an option for a third, a source close to the negotiation confirmed to MLB.com pending a physical.

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports first reported the deal, worth $14 million plus a $9 million option for 2012. Tigers officials would neither confirm nor deny the agreement.

By signing the Type A free agent, the Tigers would give up their first-round pick in this summer’s First-Year Player Draft, which would be the 19th overall selection. It would mark the first time since 1991, after the Tigers signed Rob Deer, that Detroit has given up its first-round Draft pick. However, the Tigers have two compensation picks coming at the end of the first round for losing relievers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon to free agency

Slew of minor league contracts

The Tigers officially announced 17 players signed to minor league contracts so far this offseason. Several of them had already been known. Some have been signed for more than a month. Still, it’s worth some interest to take a look at some of the names.

One we didn’t know until now was catcher Mike Rabelo, who returns to his original organization two years after going to Florida with five prospects in the trade for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Though the Tigers haven’t announced spring training invites for these guys yet, one would expect Rabelo to be in camp as one of the extra catchers the Tigers always need for the first few weeks when lots of pitchers are in camp throwing their side sessions. On a similar note, Max St. Pierre also returns.

Macay McBride resigned with the Tigers earlier in the offseason. He hasn’t pitched competitively since opening day of the 2008 season, but while it’s hard to see a whole lot of opportunity for lefties to advance to Detroit these days, the deal allows McBride to continue his rehab process with the same medical staff who have handled it the last couple years.

Here’s the list of the guys announced:

RHPs: Enrique Gonzalez (confirmed — he’ll get camp invite), Ruddy Lugo, Josh Rainwater
LHPs: Phil Dumatrait, Ryan Ketchner, Macay McBride, Sam Narron, Jason Waddell
Cs: Andy Bouchie, Robinzon Diaz, Mike Rabelo, Max St. Pierre
IFs: Kory Casto, Santo De Leon, Cesar Nicolas, Jason Stokes
OF: Ryan Patterson

Zumaya follow-up: Bonus for games played

Forgot to blog it yesterday, but you probably saw it on the site that the Tigers avoided arbitration with Joel Zumaya with a one-year, $915,000 contract, up from the $735,000 Zumaya made last year. Well, turns out he’ll make a little more than that if he stays healthy for the bulk of the year.

Zumaya’s contract includes a $20,000 bonus if he pitches in 35 games this year. Why is this significant? Because Zumaya’s 29 appearances last year marked his highest total since 2006. It isn’t a huge bonus when you consider the overall contract, but it’s kind of unusual for an arbitration-eligible player, whose contracts are usually straight salaries. In this case, it’s a way to bridge the gap between the value of Zumaya over a full season and the risk of injury.

Leading on Valverde is relative

I don’t like the idea of suggesting a team is in the lead for a free agent. The scorekeeping is completely subjective until a player decides where to sign. A team can easily hide their best offer until the last minute. Heck, a player doesn’t even have to take the supposed best offer. Who leads then?

That said, every indication backs up the notion that the Tigers’ offer for Jose Valverde is the most lucrative one out there. If it’s a two-year offer, as some indications suggest, it would also likely be the longest. And depending on who’s saying what, there could be multiple teams competing with them, one team, or none.

The Cardinals were rumored to have a lesser offer of their own out there for him, but MLB.com Cardinals reporter Matthew Leach had a source tell him that was “news to me” and that there’s “nothing to it.” A tweet from Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown reported another offer from an unknown team, but the extent of that is unknown.

So are the Tigers in the lead? Well, Valverde hasn’t signed yet. The two sides were still talking Wednesday, according to a source, but as logical a fit as it seems, it’s still not done.