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Damon Signing Official

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All the weeks of speculation finally came to an official end this morning as the Tigers announced a formal agreement with outfielder Johnny Damon on a one year, $8 MM contract for the upcoming season. The move was announced this morning at the team’s Spring Training complex in Lakeland, FL. Damon will be introduced to the media at a 2 pm press conference, then join the rest of his teammates just in time for the first full-squad workouts tomorrow.

For a lot of you, the issue with Damon doesn’t seem to be the player as much as the money given him. Mike Rogers of Bless You Boys has a fine piece up this morning breaking down Damon’s projected WAR vs those of Carlos Guillen, and Ryan Raburn. The way Rogers has it figured, Damon’s projections, even at their minimum, would make him “worth” about $8 MM, so the Tigers aren’t truly overpaying for his services.

And it’s not as if the Tigers vastly outbid the market for Damon, either. The WhiteSox had offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 MM and there are rumblings that Tampa was making a very strong push for Damon as well, nearly stealing him away at the last moment. Gotta love the “mystery team”.

Another thing that most of us were assuming, I know I was, is that Damon was signed to lead-off. While that may ultimately be true, Jim Leyland has said he’s looking at Austin Jackson in that role and in his mind, he was trying to find a two-hitter.

I had figured the order would shake out with Damon followed by Scott Sizemore, as he is thought to be a more advanced hitter than Jackson at this point. But if Jackson does lead-off, Damon batting second would allow a break-up of the right handers in the middle, going R, L, R, R, S in the top five. Batting Damon first would result in having three consecutive RH batters, a problem that you would like to avoid if possible. If Jackson can handle the lead-off duties at least as well as Curtis Granderson did a year ago, this lineup looks much more formidable than last years.

Also, batting Sizemore further down in the order would allow a deeper lineup. Sizemore is no thumper, but he does have more pop than either Placido Polanco or Jackson, so batting him in the bottom half of the order might take away some of the automatic outs that plagued the 2009 lineup. Last year, there wasn’t much to fear out of the Tigers 6-9 hitters, especially in the second half, by moving Sizemore down, the Tigers will have a solid hitter to couple with a hopefully effective Brandon Inge.

Better production should also be expected out of the catchers, as Gerald Laird should be better with the bat in slightly fewer at bats, and a possible full season from Alex Avila will also be an upgrade over the Dane Sardinha/Dusty Ryan tandem of last year. Even if Avila begins the year in Toledo, Robizon Diaz should be able to hit at a better clip than either of those two showed last season.

As for the defense, yes Damon has a terrible arm. In fact, the Tigers have probably downgraded at both LF and CF in terms of throwing this year. But, Damon covers significantly more ground than even a healthy Guillen in left, so what you lose in arm strength, you gain in range. Guillen may be more able to keep runners from taking an extra base, but fewer hits should fall-in with Damon out there.

The bottom line here is that this team is better with Johnny Damon than without. The Tigers didn’t have to give him a second year, or even an option with a pricey buyout. They got their left handed hitter who will help balance the order, and it didn’t cost them a prospect or draft pick, either. The money may have been a million or two higher than we would have liked, but it is a good signing by the Tigers. I know I was in favor of passing on Damon, but the terms of the deal are team-friendly, and if the Tigers weren’t interested in Felipe Lopez, and they weren’t, Damon was the next best fit for this team.

Still, don’t expect that the Tigers are done dealing. They have six weeks to set the roster, and extra parts like Clete Thomas, Raburn, and a left handed reliever or four that could be moved yet.