Damon saga continues to twist and turn
Tigers confirm offer; White Sox withdraw but are willing to talk
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers definitely have an offer on the table for Johnny Damon. At this point it might be the last offer for the free-agent outfielder, or at least the best one.
Hours after Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed his offer to Damon, White Sox GM Ken Williams reportedly pulled his offer off the table ... sort of. And the long-running saga of the most prominent free agent left on the market took yet another turn, one that might bring this courtship closer to a deal.
Of course, that's what many folks thought a week ago, so stay tuned.
"I would assume, like any player, that [Damon wants] to get into camp and get ready for the season," Dombrowski said on Friday. "So at some point there's a time frame there. But I think he knows that."
The White Sox have their own time frame to consider, which is why Williams made his move later on Friday. Chicago opens Spring Training on Sunday, and Williams didn't want speculation to turn into a distraction for the players already under contract and in camp. He reportedly asked Damon's agent, Scott Boras, for a bottom-line counteroffer, and decided it was farther than the White Sox were willing to go.
Thus, though Williams had previously said that he wouldn't discuss Damon until Sunday, he declared on Friday afternoon that his team's offer -- reportedly a one-year deal worth as much as $6 million, according to the Chicago Sun-Times -- was no longer on the table.
This had the appearances of an abrupt turn of events, but it might not end matters quite yet. Williams admitted to the Sun-Times that until Sunday morning's workout, he would be willing to talk should Damon and/or Boras change their minds. Thus, maybe the White Sox aren't really out of the bidding.
The same might be said of the Braves, who reportedly have had a one-year offer on the table for Damon, but that's believed to include less money as well.
When asked how the White Sox decision affects his club, Braves GM Frank Wren said, "Nothing has changed on our end."
For their part, the Tigers aren't concerned about a distraction factor, even though there's a conspicuously open locker in front of manager Jim Leyland's office that could go to either Damon or potential instructor Andres Galarraga. The locker had been housing some extra batting helmets earlier in the week, but those are gone.
Tigers pitchers and catchers held their first workout on Friday morning, and though a couple of players were asking teammates and reporters about the latest on Damon, the topic wasn't top of mind. For that matter, neither was the Tiger Woods press conference, which played on televisions in the clubhouse while pitchers threw bullpen sessions and ran on the back fields at Tigertown.
The Tigers appear to be a pretty focused group right now. That said, the player who might be most affected by a Damon signing -- left fielder Carlos Guillen, who was vocal in his desire for an everyday position in interviews with MLB.com last October -- hasn't reported to camp yet.
Dombrowski didn't want to get into the details of his team's offer to Damon on Friday, or the implications on the club. But he did acknowledge the obvious benefits Damon would bring to Detroit, and why there's interest.
"First of all, he's a good player," Dombrowski said. "He would help us from an offensive perspective. He's another left-handed bat. He's been a winner. So there's a lot of things about him that are very good in that regard. He's a good player.
"It's one of those things where, he being [available] at this time of the year, you normally wouldn't anticipate that. So we've made some adjustments ourselves. Of course, any time you do that at this time of year, [owner] Mike Ilitch was involved in that. And so we just decided that we would go ahead and try to make an offer, because we think he would help us."
The White Sox development isn't likely to alter the Tigers' approach. Detroit has been widely believed to have the best offer on the table, plus the most financial flexibility to take on such a contract.
That doesn't mean the Tigers are going to bid against themselves. Though reports a week ago suggested they had approval from Ilitch to offer Damon a two-year, $14 million contract, there are serious doubts about that. ESPNChicago.com cited a Major League source suggesting that the Tigers are more likely offering a one-year deal worth around $7 million. Such a deal would bring the team's 2010 payroll right up around its 2009 level of $129 million.
Boras clearly would like a two-year contract for his client, and he might be willing to backload or defer money to that end, but that might not happen.
Boras did not return a call from MLB.com seeking comment on Friday afternoon.
Even before the White Sox development, Dombrowski sounded a somewhat confident tone, though he didn't want to gauge his club's chances.
"I'm not closing it off," he said, "but I'm not saying it's done by any means. We're still in it."
That said, when asked about reports that White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski and broadcaster Ken Harrelson played golf with Damon and tried to recruit him, Dombrowski had a laugh.
"Maybe that helped us," he said. "I don't know."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporters Scott Merkin and Mark Bowman contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.