The Tigers made official today what we already knew – Johnny Damon has signed a one-year, $8 million deal to join the Tigers as an outfielder. Damon will wear the number 18 for the Tigers, a number that has rarely been ever worn by a full-time player (see Rudy Pemberton). Also, it seems the Tigers are 100% in favor of Austin Jackson getting most of the playing time in center with the aging Damon and Ordonez playing the corners.
The most interesting news to come out of today’s press conference, was the amount of influence Dontrelle Willis had on bringing Damon to the Tigers. While Damon apparently had the Tigers in his sights during the Nook Logan/Granderson era of 2005, it was Willis talking about the team atmosphere that provided the extra push for bringing Damon to the Tigers. Dontrelle’s subpar record and astronomical salary should rightly be placed under question, but his defense for a team that has held beside him during the worst of his career, is extremely commendable.
Damon, now looking considerably less Caveman-like, repeatedly told reporters that he always had Detroit in his sights. While that comment is somewhat open for discussion following wooing from the Braves and White Sox, it does demonstrate how much playing for a team in a smaller market has an appeal for him. His time with the Royals and Athletics is nearly a decade in the past, and hopefully his abilities are not also a distant memory. He mentioned his friendly relationship with Verlander and Bonderman as also being catalysts for making the move. Recent articles suggested he was a big fan of Steve Yzerman as well.
This season will also determine the future direction for the Tigers organization. Ever since the Granderson trade/non-Polanco contract tendering, Detroit has shifted between a team playing within its struggling economy and a team still reeling from last year’s near trip to the playoffs. The current line-up has very few players between the extremely young (Sizemore, Avila, Porcello) and the veterans (Ordonez, Guillen, Damon). Even if the Tigers are successful this season, the path to the future is as unclear as the Tigers’ outcome this season.