Free agent outfielder Johnny Damon is nearing a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, according to Yahoo!'s Tim Brown who reports that the two sides "appear to be closing in on a deal" but adds that there is "still some work to be done."
Damon, who clearly has a career goal of playing for all the teams in the American League East, spent 2010 with the Detroit Tigers. The 37-year old hit .271/.355/.401 with 69 walks and 36 doubles while appearing in 145 games last year, most of them as a designated hitter. Damon, entering his 17th season in the majors, would probably fill a similar role in Tampa.
Our Rays blogs, DRaysBay, recognizes that is low-risk, potentially average-reward signing for Tampa (" he is a player with good contact skills and an above-average batting eye"), the addition of Damon would still be baffling.
Damon offers more certainty and less risk than either Manny Ramirez or Vladimir Guerrero, but he also has a lower upside. The optimistic Bill James projections have Damon posting a split line nearly identical to his work last season (.339 wOBA), and that sounds about right to me. His defense is certainly better than either Manny or Vlad could produce, but he's lost range in recent years and now projects more as an average fielder at best. Overall, he's an average, declining player with some small upside, and he'd lose value by moving to DH for the Rays.
But: "Adding Damon as a DH would still be an upgrade over what the Rays got from the position last season."