When the news of Victor Martinez‘ ACL injury came out, I wouldn’t say a panic rolled through Tigertown, but certainly some genuine concern has. You can count me in the category of one that is definitely concerned. Not only did the Tigers lose a quality bat in their lineup, they lost the “protection” that Martinez offers to Miguel Cabrera that nobody else on that current club can offer. Last season, teams still tried to walk Cabrera and pitch around him, however, Martinez made them pay. He hit near .400 after a Cabrera walk.
Going into the 2012 season with spring training fast approaching, no doubt the Tigers organization is going through a multitude of options, much like we are on this site. It could be an opportunity for Detroit to explore an outfield option to take over for Delmon Young, or maybe even an upgrade to the rotation to try and make their pitching staff so good they don’t need to score as many runs.
One option still out there is a guy that was a Tiger just 2 short years ago, and that is Johnny Damon.
Damon, who liked being a Detroit Tiger in 2010, is one of a multitude of veteran DH’s still out there on the free agent market. Some names like Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero have been thrown around here and by different Tigers media. While those are two guys that have good offensive histories, I am not sure they are a fit for the Tigers. I think ideally the Tigers would like a left-handed bat to fit in the lineup.
Damon, of course, doesn’t fit the bill as a guy that the Tigers could slot into the 5th spot in the order behind Cabrera. His power isn’t anything special, though he did hit 16 home runs for the Rays last season. In 2010 playing for Detroit though, he hit just 8 home runs, his lowest total since he was a 23 year old for the Royals. Comerica Park wasn’t good for Damon’s power numbers, as it wasn’t for Martinez either. The difference is, at this stage, Martinez is just a better hitter in general.
Johnny Damon’s value can’t be measured in terms of just home run power. If the Tigers were interested in bringing him back, he would add value to the Tigers roster. One of the glaring needs on this team is people getting on base in front of Miguel Cabrera. Damon has a solid history of getting on base with a career OBP of .353. In fact, his OBP of .355 for the Tigers in 2010 is something that fans would’ve loved last year in one of the top two spots. Damon should be considered for a lead-off spot, or even as a 2 hole hitter.
By adding Damon to the lineup, it would allow the Tigers to move some guys around to more appropriate spots in the order. If they want to continue to try Austin Jackson in the lead-off role, Damon could hit second, and Brennan Boesch could hit 3rd. Boesch excelled hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera in 2011, and there isn’t much reason to think he couldn’t do so again. If the Tigers move Cabrera to the third spot, Boesch could move into the 2 hole, and Damon could lead-off, moving Jackson to the bottom of the order. The problem would still remain who hits behind Cabrera?
I think at this point Alex Avila is the leading candidate to do so. Avila has good power, hits lefty, and is a productive offensive player.
Now, one thing that has to be mentioned when concerning Johnny Damon. His OBP was just .326 last season for the Rays. That isn’t typical of his career however, and I think that because he was hitting in the middle of the Rays lineup a lot last season, he traded a little OBP for slugging last season. I think if he focuses at getting on base for the Tigers he could do so.
Another thing that Damon could bring to the Tigers that might be missing with Martinez out is leadership. Damon has been in a lot of pennant races, and has always been seen as a positive in the clubhouse.
As far as pure production goes, Damon can’t replace Martinez. Damon can contribute though in a different way, and could likely be had for the money the Tigers are saving on Martinez from the insurance. So in effect, it wouldn’t cost the more.
What do you all think? Time for the Tigers and Johnny Damon to unite once again?