Detroit Tigers News

The Calm Before the Storm?

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There certainly seems to be a building momentum towards a union between free agent outfielder Johnny Damon and the Detroit Tigers. Over the past few days, all has been quiet on the Damon front. Perhaps too quiet.This should come as no surprise, however, as the Tigers under Dave Dombrowski have always been tight-lipped when it pertains to roster moves.

If the Damon situation plays out like most expect it to, you can expect to hear about it sometime soon. The Tigers would obviously like to get things wrapped up before injuries begin in Spring Training, something that could open the door to additional suitors for Damon’s services. As it stands, the Tigers appear to be the only club with any significant interest in the aging star.

For his part, Damon continues to shower the Motor City with all kinds of love, recently expressing his admiration of Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings. What it comes down to, of course, is money.

The Tigers are surely waiting for Damon’s camp to drop their demands of a multi-year contract, and to concede a few million bucks as well. Word is that Damon is now looking for a two-year $14MM deal like the one he rejected from the Yankees back in October. He won’t find it in Detroit. At least I hope not.

I have stated in the past, several times in fact, that Damon needs Detroit much more so than Detroit needs Damon. I still believe that to be true, but let’s assume the Tigers are interested, and that a deal with Damon is likely to get done. What would be a good price?

I certainly can’t see Dombrowski ponying up the contract that Damon and Scott Boras are looking for, but I could see a one year deal with an option for a second. Dave Cameron wrote a piece at Fangraphs a little while back comparing Damon this year to the Bobby Abreu free agency last year. The similarities are striking. Cameron’s is an opinion I value a great deal, so when I stumbled upon his article, I took notice. Cameron thinks that a few months into the season, teams will be kicking themselves if they pass on Damon only to see him sign a bargain bin contract.

I don’t disagree with Cameron’s assesment of Damon, but if Dombrowski makes a move for him, what are the ramifications?

Assuming that there is still a bit of money left in the bank account of Mr. Illitch, and there always seems to be for this type of player, Dombrowski should be offering something in the neighborhood of one year at about the $5MM Abreu signed for last season.

A more creative offer, and one that could see the deal get done, would be to add a second year mutual option, perhaps at as much as $8MM. This would give Damon the potential to earn $13MM over the life of his contract. The mutual option would likely be declined by either party, as the Tigers wouldn’t want to pay Damon $8MM if he struggles and if he has a big year, Damon would want to look for a bigger payday. This contract would also be appealing to Boras, who could then show the world once more that he got his player the kind of deal he thought was deserved. Everybody wins.

Everybody except the extra outfielder on the Tigers roster, that is.

The addition of Damon would mean the end of the road for either Clete Thomas or Ryan Raburn. Raburn figures to head to camp with the inside track to get 500 at bats this season, adding Damon would cut that number in half. There remains the possibility that bringing in Damon could mean the Tigers would look to trade Raburn as well.

Or could it be that Thomas is the odd man out. Thomas plays better defense than any player the Tigers plan to use in the outfield, and he can play all three positions. His bat is nowhere near as advanced as Raburn, however. I believe Thomas has burned his minor league options, but I can’t find anywhere to verify this. If not, he would start the year in Toledo. Assuming he has, he would have to be DFA’d and the Tigers would look to trade him.

None of this does much to address the organizational need for infield depth, however. Which is why I still hold out hope that Dombrowski is more interested in Felipe Lopez than Damon. In a perfect world, Detroit would wrap up the off-season with an press conference announcing the signing of both players. Damon to a $5MM deal and Lopez for one year and $2.5MM. If it did happen, Don Kelly would be the obvious choice to be DFA’d, and Thomas or Raburn would soon leave as well. I feel very confident that’s not going to happen, though.

So, dear readers, what are your thoughts? How much is too much to offer Damon considering the Tigers appear to be the only suitor he has? If Detroit does sign another player (Damon or otherwise), who would you expect to see removed from the roster?

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