Boras turns to Tigers to seek deal for Damon

 “(Bleep) you all, I’m going back to
Detroit.”

— Kid Rock, excerpted from a 2000 Windsor Star interview



Scott Boras has earned many comparisons in his life, some
more flattering than others. But this might be the first parallel
drawn between him and the noted musician from Romeo, Mich.

Boras, the most influential agent in baseball, is right much
more often than he is wrong. But when he is wrong, everyone knows
it. That is the price of fame. And right now, most people in the
industry will tell you that Boras misread the marketplace for
Johnny Damon.

I’m not going to offer a histrionic replay of the
failed talks between Damon and the Yankees. Here’s what
matters: It is Feb. 3, Damon doesn’t have a job, and the
Yankees don’t want him anymore.

So, Boras has made like the aforementioned Mr. Ritchie:
He’s going back to Detroit, where he has a better chance of
finding a good deal for Damon than you might think.

If you would have told Damon in November that he would be
unsigned come February, I doubt he would have been pleased.

By that measure, Boras messed up somewhere. It happens.

But if you think he has been humbled by all of this, well,
you haven’t been paying attention.

Instead, Boras retreated to a bunker in his Newport Beach
lair and broke the emergency glass over a seldom-used manual:
How to create a market for stars using duct tape and chicken
wire … two weeks before spring training.

It’s been some time since Boras has delved this deep
into his playbook. He didn’t need to go to extraordinary
lengths at this time last year, when it was widely assumed that
Manny Ramirez was going to be a Dodger.

This is different. Boras is trying to find a new lead suitor
at a time when many teams are finalizing their rosters for the year
ahead.

So, he’s doing for Damon what he did for Ivan Rodriguez
in 2004 and Magglio Ordonez one year later. In each case, the
handbook prescribed the same first step.

Get Tigers owner Mike Ilitch on the phone.

Now, I’m not predicting that Damon will sign with the
Tigers — although I believe that is a distinct possibility.
The important thing here is that the Tigers are
involved. Several weeks ago, people in the Tigers’
organization were downplaying their chances of signing Damon.

No money left, they said.

On Tuesday, I heard a different tone from team officials.
Dave Dombrowski, the team president and general manager, could have
denied that the team had interest. He didn’t. “We are
always open to improving our club,” was his statement
instead.

What changed?

For one thing, the Yankees are out. Presumably, the price has
dropped. And most recently, Boras has demonstrated anew that he
possesses the message-communication savvy of a skilled politician.

Boras
had to make the Tigers a factor in the Damon sweepstakes.
In many ways, they are an ideal fit. They need another left-handed
bat. They don’t know who their leadoff or No. 2 hitter will
be. Their left fielder, Carlos Guillen, is coming off two mediocre
seasons.

In December, the Tigers said they traded Curtis Granderson
and Edwin Jackson for baseball reasons rather than payroll
considerations. By adding Damon’s millions to the payroll,
they could prove it.

Detroit has a certain appeal for Damon, too. He has good
career numbers at Comerica Park, which is favorable to left-handed
hitters. The Tigers train within a short drive of his Florida home.
No need to move in a couple weeks.

So, Boras spoke with reporters from
The Detroit News and
Detroit Free Press on Monday. The Tuesday papers carried
headlines and quotes about Damon wanting to play in Detroit.
I’m sure most readers were excited by that. But Boras
isn’t concerned about what most readers think. He was trying
to reach one reader: Mike Ilitch.

Ilitch does, in fact, read the newspaper. More importantly,
he is the owner of the Tigers and Red Wings. And he has
demonstrated over the years that he likes nothing more than to sign
star players and watch them win championships.

When Boras didn’t have a team for Rodriguez in 2004,
Ilitch signed him. When Boras didn’t have a team for Ordonez
in 2005, Ilitch signed him, too. In both cases, Ilitch, more than
Dombrowski, was the driving force.

Now, Boras hopes that Ilitch will get excited about
Damon’s affability and durability, his .288 career batting
average and two World Series rings.

Will it work?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough, if the Tigers make
Damon the two-year offer that Boras wants. It remains to be seen if
any team — including the Tigers — is willing to offer
more than one year right now.

At the moment, Ilitch is in control.

If he authorizes the additional expense, I doubt that his
baseball operations department will object. And you can bet that
manager Jim Leyland, whose lineup card is currently blank above the
No. 3 spot, would welcome the addition of a popular veteran such as
Damon.

Regardless of what happens this month, Boras won’t be
able to say that Damon’s off-season went as it should have.
He belongs in New York, in the same clubhouse where he sprayed
champagne a few months ago.

But Boras can’t worry about that now. He simply needs
to find a good deal for his client.

And so he’s taking his case to the man who made it
happen twice before.

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