White Sox showing late interest in Damon
Club offering less money, years than division rival Tigers
CHICAGO -- Late Hot Stove interest from the White Sox in free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon now has become public, with Chicago joining the Detroit Tigers as the primary teams trying to obtain the services of the talented left fielder.
But the question centering on this Damon pursuit by the South Siders is whether general manager Ken Williams is playing a game of chess or poker with the White Sox American League Central rivals.
The chess match would come from the White Sox countering recent moves made within their division. With one of the top pitching staffs in Major League Baseball, let alone the American League Central, the White Sox already have assembled a true playoff contender. In the last few weeks, though, Minnesota has added Orlando Hudson to solidify its infield and former White Sox slugger Jim Thome as its part-time designated hitter and full-time clubhouse influence, and Damon to Detroit could turn the AL Central into a three-team battle.
Damon, who turned 36 on Nov. 5, still can play. That fact has not been disputed during all of his contract machinations taking place throughout the offseason. The left-handed hitter produced a .282 average and .365 on-base percentage for the 2009 World Series champion Yankees, knocking out 24 home runs, driving in 82, scoring 107 and even swiping 12 bases for good measure.
Adding Damon certainly would give the White Sox a potent bat from the left side they currently appear to be missing, a 15-year-veteran with a career .292 average at U.S. Cellular Field. Damon is not known as a top-notch defensive player at this point in his career, but he could slide into the designated hitter's role and move behind Juan Pierre at the top of the White Sox batting order.
Here's where the poker part comes into play. Quite possibly, Williams simply is trying to win with a pair of 4s as his best hand while the Tigers appear to be holding a full house. Williams has mentioned on numerous occasions over the past two months how the White Sox pretty much are at their 2010 spending limit, figuring to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million to offer to Damon for one year and to add to their $100 million payroll.
According to FOXSports.com, citing Major League sources on Thursday, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has authorized a two-year, $14 million contract offer to Damon. So if Damon ultimately decided to go with the White Sox, it wouldn't be financially-based as much as the White Sox being a better fit and Chicago being a bigger market.
Ozzie Guillen has expressed a strong desire to go with a 2010 DH by committee, using Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel and Jayson Nix in a rotating role. The White Sox manager also would give Carlos Quentin, Paul Konerko and Pierre a break, of sorts, by sliding them into the DH spot for a few games.
This potential signing of Damon obviously would complicate that plan, while costing the White Sox their seventh reliever and 12th pitcher on the staff. That roster spot doesn't seem crucial with the sturdy innings-eaters in their rotation, but Guillen likes to have insulation so as not to overwork Mark Buehrle or Freddy Garcia early in the season, as examples.
Williams has been thought of as a long shot in past high-profile potential moves, including trades involving Garcia (2004 with Seattle), Bartolo Colon (2003) and Jake Peavy last season. Ultimately, the White Sox have jumped in on Damon because the price is right. They also could be upping the ante on the Tigers for a player who could help shift the balance of power in the division.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.