Closer's in. Now what? Damon?
Now 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.