Tigers, Damon finalize $8M deal
To Johnny Damon, the Detroit Tigers were the right team.
"This is where I wanted to be," he said Monday after completing his one-year, $8 million contract. "The Tigers were my first choice. I love it here and think I am a good fit."
Let go by the World Series champion New York Yankees, Damon also drew interest from the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox. When it came time to choose, he darted to Detroit.
"The Tigers are a scary team and the fact that this team has gotten even younger makes it a lot more fun," he said.
The 36-year-old outfielder brings another left-handed bat to the Tigers’ lineup besides switch-hitter Carlos Guillen.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has said Damon wasn’t in the team’s plans as late as January. But Damon came into the picture after the Tigers dealt leadoff hitter <fstl:categorylink categoryId="225437">Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, then saw Placido Polanco leave as a free agent.
"We needed to make some adjustments," Dombrowski said. "We aren’t doing it only for this year, but we also needed to move forward. The moves we made earlier in the year allowed us to make some adjustments, not only for now but also for the future. We also brought in some young talent."
Damon hit .282 with 24 homers for the Yankees last season and is expected to lead off for the Tigers.
"I’m happy for him that he’s found out where he’s going to go," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday. "I think for players that’s an anxious time. Trying to figure out where you’re going to be. Usually it doesn’t go on this long. I wish Johnny luck. Johnny was good for us here. We all miss Johnny. This is the hard part of the game when those relationships change a little bit. I’ll root for Johnny except when he’s playing against us."
The Tigers lost to Minnesota in a one-game tiebreaker for the AL Central title last year after collapsing down the stretch. Dombrowski said Damon’s attitude means as much as his talent.
"He makes us better," Dombrowski said. "He’s a proven winner."
Damon said he seriously considered offers from three other teams, though he wouldn’t name them. He denied reports that his wife, Michelle, was against signing with the Tigers.
"This is where we wanted to be," Damon said. "It is where my family wanted to be. Contrary to what has been reported, I wanted a place where I could win right away. I have always been truthful and Detroit was always my first choice, and my wife and I are going to love it there."
Damon said he’s more comfortable now than when he made the awkward transition from Boston to rival New York before the 2006 season. He grew up in Orlando, about a 30-minute drive from the Tigers’ spring training home in Lakeland.
The Tigers will be Damon’s fifth team. He also played for the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics before his stints in Boston and New York.
"This is so much different than the last time," Damon said. "This is the first time I feel at home."
He said he knew his days in New York were numbered after he was informed by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman that he was the second choice behind free agent Nick Johnson, who signed with New York in December.