Last week general manager Dave Dombrowski said the Tigers will not attempt to re-sign impending free agent Johnny Damon, but yesterday the 36-year-old outfielder made it clear that he has no plans to retire:
I definitely want to keep playing, but it’s going to have to be somewhere else because Detroit has a lot of young outfielders who hopefully I helped groom. It seems like every year I’m up to the challenge so I believe whatever team that gets me, I’ll be an asset for next year.
Damon played reasonably well on a one-year, $8 million deal with the Tigers and as usual stayed remarkably healthy, hitting .271/.355/.401 with 49 extra-base hits, 11 steals, and 81 runs in 145 games. That production represented a 100-point dip in OPS compared to his numbers with the Yankees in 2008/2009, but some of that is due to no longer calling Yankee Stadium home and Damon was still solidly above average offensively.
He also became just the fifth player in MLB history to play 140 or more games in 15 straight seasons, joining Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Pete Rose, and Willie Mays. However, if he was only able to get a one-year, $8 million contract last winter coming off an .850 OPS season it’ll be interesting to see what the market is for Damon coming off a .750 OPS season.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.