With Holliday signed, Damon still looking for new deal

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Johnny Damon, the unfortunate victim of the lengthy Matt Holliday negotiations, is still awaiting his next contract.

“Well, I knew I’d have to wait until some of the bigger hitters like Jason Bay and Matt Holliday went
places, and now I’m just waiting to see what’s in store for me,” Damon
said. “I knew I’d probably have to take a pay cut, just based on the
way the economy is in this country and baseball, but I thought I had a
productive season and I think I showed people I can play and still do
something at a high level.”

He told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that he approached the Yankees
with an annual salary of $10 million, but they were more comfortable
with a contract in the $6-7
million range. Not willing to take a pay cut, he hasn’t had any
conversations with the Bombers lately. While further talks wouldn’t surprise
him, he’s “just kind of going on” with his life. One possible destination that has emerged
is the Braves, whose Disney Spring Training complex is just a few
minutes from his home in Orlando.

“Atlanta would be great,” he said. “I’m wide open. There are a handful
of teams who, in my opinion, could win and I’d like to see what kind of
availability there would be with those clubs.”

The Braves could have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the
market and sign Damon on an Adrian Beltre-type deal, but if his price
drops far enough, I’d never say never on the Yankees. Gee, it’s like
they knew it would take Matt Holliday forever to sign, leaving Damon
grasping at straws to find a lucrative deal before Spring Training.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.