UPDATE, 12:15 PM: Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com was told by a source that the Rays are indeed talking to Damon and that an agreement could “certainly happen,” but also that nothing is close.
2:29 AM: Johnny Damon has found a new home for the upcoming season. Well, almost.
According to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, the 37-year-old free agent is “closing in on a deal” with the Rays.
Damon also drew legitimate interest from the Yankees, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Angels this offseason, but he probably recognized that he has a better shot at playing time down in Tampa Bay, where the Rays have been ravaged offensively by free agency and have some question marks in different areas heading into spring training this year.
The 15-year major league veteran can’t be trusted to play the outfield anymore — at least, not on a regular basis — but he should find enough at-bats at designated hitter to remain satisfied and to produce at a somewhat high level. At the worst, he’ll make for a useful pinch-hitter.
Damon finished with a .271/.355/.401 batting line, eight home runs and 51 RBI in 539 at-bats last season for the Tigers. He can probably match a few of those stats if given ample looks with the Rays.
Infielder Brett Lawrie successfully avoided arbitration and signed a one-year contract with the White Sox on Friday, per a team announcement. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman added that the deal was for $3.5 million, significantly lower than the $4.125 million Lawrie was paid by the White Sox in 2016.
The White Sox acquired Lawrie last December in a swap for minor league arms Zack Erwin and J.B. Wendelken. After splitting time at second and third base for the Athletics in 2015, Lawrie slotted in at second base and DH for the White Sox and batted .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs in 384 PA. While it’s strange to see a healthy, fairly productive player receive a salary reduction in arbitration, Lawrie missed nearly half of the season with a strain in his left hamstring, though he’s projected to return at full health by the start of the 2017 season.
Left-hander Brian Duensing signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Cubs on Friday, per a report from FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman.
The free agent spent the bulk of his 2016 season with the Orioles after receiving a call-up from Triple-A Norfolk in early June. He underwent elbow surgery several weeks later when a freak bullpen injury revealed cartilage chips and inflammation in his pitching elbow, but recovered to finish the season with a 4.05 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings for the club. The Orioles utilized him for a final out during the AL Wild Card game, during which Duensing recorded a five-pitch strikeout in the ninth inning of their 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
The 33-year-old is currently expected to bulk up the Cubs’ left-handed relief corps, with fellow left-hander Mike Montgomery slated for the rotation in 2017.