Lopez, Not Damon, Should Be Tigers Target


So now that the Yankees have spurned Johnny Damon by signing Randy Winn, the Tigers are said to be where Damon wants to play in 2010. Satan’s Minion, Scott Boras, who represents Damon, recently spoke to the Detroit News about a conversation he had with his client back in December.

“I can make the Detroit Tigers a winner” Boras quoted Damon to Lynn Henning. Boras then went on to detail how before signing his last two free agent deals, Damon had said the same thing about Boston and New York. Of course, it wasn’t until his third year in Boston, and fourth in New York, that Damon actually did make each of those teams a winner. At age 36, Damon and the Tigers don’t have the luxury of waiting for it to happen.

The fact is the Tigers are not Damon’s first choice. The Yankees were his first choice, they didn’t feel he was worth the money. The A’s are probably his second choice, or maybe Atlanta or Tampa, or even Cincinnati, all of whom have been linked to Damon in various rumors.

Early in the offseason, Damon apparently turned down a two year, $14 MM contract offer from New York, now the offers have dried up and he’ll likely have to settle for one year at around $4 MM. At that price, Damon is a good value and the Tigers will likely pounce, but if he signs with Detroit, you can bet it won’t be because he really wanted to play here. At this point, he’ll be happy just to find work.

While having Damon at the top of the lineup would make the Tigers a significantly more potent offense, he would present a roadblock of sorts to either the development of Austin Jackson or more likely the playing time of Ryan Raburn.  Dave Dombrowski has already stated that the club is prepping Raburn for full-time duty this season and I figure he has the inside track to handle the lead-off duties in 2010. Damon joining the roster would put a stop to all that noise and Raburn would be left to wait for Carlos Guillen to hit the DL. At least he won’t have to wait long.

Outfield depth still is not the problem. The Tigers figure to use Guillen, Raburn, Jackson, and Magglio Ordonez to fill the outfield and DH spots. They also have an accomplished defender in Clete Thomas who can play all three spots. While Damon’s bat would help, the Tigers would be better suited to find another infielder.

The offseason is about setting up your club for success. Part of that process is having depth available in case of injury or poor performance. The outfield not only has five ML caliber players already in house, but Wilkin Ramirez and Casper Wells are not far behind. The infield, however, is lacking in quality depth. An injury to Brandon Inge would spell doom for Detroit. And it sure would be nice to have someone who can hit playing shortstop, at least occasionally. Which brings me to Felipe Lopez.

Lopez is a switch hitter who has a history of success in the National League. He can play second base and shortstop, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think he could play third as well. He’s been a solid top-of-the-order hitter throughout his career and while he might struggles with the glove at times, it wouldn’t be as noticeable in a utility role. Think of him like Ramon Santiago, but with a much better bat.

Lopez split last season between the Diamondbacks and Brewers and had another fine year, yet he has remained unsigned. Like Damon, I’m sure Lopez is getting antsy with Spring Training now just weeks away, so his asking price will continue to drop as camp grows near.

The addition of Lopez would solidify the roster and fortify the offense. Thomas could continue as the clubs fifth outfielder and the Tigers would have insurance against in case Scott Sizemore or Adam Everett struggles to hit big league pitching. Lopez wouldn’t be given a starting job, but I bet it wouldn’t take long for him to hit his way into the lineup on a regular basis, eventually taking Everett’s job.

Given that the money is likely to be no worse that even between the two, in my estimation, Lopez would be the player the Tigers should be targeting, not Damon. No matter what Scott Boars says.