Johnny Damon acquisition:Fair or Foul? – Point
IAN GRIFFINJohnny Damon is not going to hit 27 home runs this year. He may not win his third World Series ring in 2010. And Tigers fans should be advised to look away when he makes a throw from the outfield. But the Tigers signing Damon to a one-year $8 million contract makes all the sense in the world and may be the move that wins the division in a none-too-stellar American League Central. How can Johnny Damon make the difference on this Tigers team? He can get on base at the top of the lineup. He can work the count and, by doing so, tutor younger hitters to do the same as well as give those who follow him a chance to see more pitches. I like the country pie song that plays when Clete Thomas steps to the plate just as well as anyone else, but there is no way such a free-swinging hitter should be leading off. And as we see the spring training game schedule beginning, Jim Leyland is making plate discipline and particularly two-strike counts a priority. You can hit all the home runs in the world, but taking pitches also takes opposing pitchers out of games earlier, gets to bullpens earlier—even if outs are recorded, they are productive outs. It’s much easier to hit the third reliever coming out of the bullpen than it is to hit Zack Greinke or Jake Peavy. The Minnesota Twins look to be Detroit’s biggest competition and will be moving into their new outdoor baseball field this year, giving up what had to be considered the biggest home field advantage in baseball—playing 82 games in the Metrodome. Much like Oakland, a team whose success perennially depends on buying into a philosophy of play, the Twins teams often get to a slow start no doubt in part due to carpet where natural grass should be. The Chicago White Sox offered Damon less and lost out. Unless they can manage to swing a trade for Adrian Gonzalez or another big offensive contributor (can Alex Rios return to form?), it should be an interesting season of reality television and tweeting for Ozzie Guillen. The Kansas City Royals have Zack Greinke and the Cleveland Indians have Grady Sizemore and both have otherwise young teams that may frustrate the Tigers from time to time, but shouldn’t pose a threat. I think one reason some Tigers fans dislike the Damon signing has more to do with not liking the Curtis Granderson trade and seeing Damon as a replacement. Granderson is a player with tons of potential who was given a contract that anticipated him developing those abilities further along by this time. It hasn’t happened, particularly against left-handed pitching. Damon will have a better year than Granderson would have had in Detroit, and if Granderson goes on to hit for career highs it will have more to do with the wind tunnel in right field and the protection through the lineup. Damon has played on successful teams even in small markets (see Oakland), where he has been a key to post season berths. Is Damon worth the $8 million Detroit will pay him this year? If Magglio Ordonez was worth $19 million last year, then, yes. Absolutely! Ian Griffin is the director of Washtenaw Community College’s Student Development and Activities, and as a proud citizen of “Red Sox Nation” can speak to the virtues of Johnny Damon.