The news broke late tonight from Ken Rosenthal on Twitter – the Indians plan to sign free agent outfielder Johnny Damon. Other bits about the deal from Rosenthal: the Damon deal will include an out clause that will allow him to depart on a specific date after Grady Sizemore returns. It will also include a full no-trade clause. Rosenthal also pointed out that Sizemore isn’t even eligible to come off of the 60-day DL until June 3. That doesn’t mean that’s necessarily when Sizemore is ready (*if* Sizemore is ready), but rather the earliest he can come off the DL. I’m guessing the out clause is meant to protect Damon if he draws the short straw and loses his everyday playing role, when/if Sizemore returns.
Damon’s agent is Scott Boras, and recently Boras claimed that Damon would sign somewhere by May 1. The Indians considered Bobby Abreu as a veteran outfield presence, but couldn’t work out a deal with the Angels. They also looked at Vladimir Guererro during a workout in the Dominican Republic. However, Guererro was arrested a couple of days ago for his involvement in a bar brawl in the D.R. Guerrero has been released from jail and maintains his innocence; he’s probably more hassle than it’s worth for the Indians at this point as they already have one player involved in legal troubles in the Dominican Republic. Damon and Abreu are both left-handed hitters, while Guerrero swings a right-handed bat. While the Indians obviously need right-handed hitters, I guess that Damon soon became the best available option.
It’s only six games into the season, but it’s obvious the Indians didn’t feel 100% comfortable entering the season with the outfield they had in place. The offense has been struggling, and they obviously felt they needed to make a move. What I find somewhat perplexing is that the Indians basically shot down the possibility of Damon a month or two ago, claiming that his weak defense was enough to keep the team from signing the veteran player. (Can he even throw the ball to the infield at this point, or will he just toss to Shin-Soo Choo and let him throw the ball in for him?) The Indians don’t really seem to want to surrender anything in a trade, so that leaves one of the yet unsigned veteran outfielders as one of the options.
The Indians have been relying on Michael Brantley in center and Shelley Duncan in right, with Aaron Cunningham in reserve (technically Jason Donald can play some outfield as well). Duncan is 5 for 17 on the season so far, .294/.400/.529 with 1 home run; until his big day on Wednesday though (3 for 5 with a home run) Duncan’s line was 2 for 12, .167/.333/.250. Cunningham is 1 for 7 (.143/.250/.143) and Brantley is 1 for 17 (.059/.238/.118). It sounds as if the plan would be to play Duncan and Damon in a left-field platoon, depending on whether or not it is a left-handed or a right-handed starting pitcher. I’m not sure who draws the short straw as far as a roster spot goes. Aaron Cunningham is out of options, so if they designate him for assignment, they risk losing him to another team. Michael Brantley does have options remaining; perhaps they feel like he’s looked bad enough to warrant a trip to Triple-A. That option would create a black hole of sorts at center field; of course Cunningham could play center if necessary. It will be interesting to see the terms of the deal with Damon, and the subsequent roster move.
Last season with Tampa Bay, Damon hit .261/.326/.418 with 16 home runs. I’m not overly thrilled by a Damon signing, yet at the same time I’m glad to see management attempting to improve this anemic offense. Hopefully Damon ends up being an actual upgrade.