The common thinking is that the Indians are going to use the 2010 season to find out what they have. Michael Brantley is the future in left for the Indians, and most fans feel like the youngster is ready to take the mantle. He did show some promise in a brief cup of coffee during 2009, but there does seem to be some hesitation with Tribe brass to just give the job away. Manny Acta has stated many times not to rush the idea of Brantley taking over left and the lead-off slot until he was ready.
Does it make sense for the Indians to do anything BUT see what they have with the youngsters? Many would say absolutely not. A free agent signing, especially for a year, would do nothing but hinder the progress of a guy like Brantley, or even Trevor Crowe. Spending any amount on a fill-in player would be a waste.
If the Indians don't plan on contending in 2010 in any form or fashion, this would absolutely be the case.
However, after listening to Manny Acta, you start to get the impression that the Indians brass are promoting rebuilding, but think that there could be a shot to do some damage in the weak AL Central. If that is the case, then signing a guy like Johnny Damon would certainly be in play if you could get him for the right amount of money.
In 1994 and 1995, the Indians spent (and in some eyes, overspent) money on old-school players such as pitcher Dennis Martinez, Eddie Murray and Orel Hershiser. All three were signed to provide the Indians with veteran leadership as been there/done that players. The plan worked like a charm, as the Indians rolled into the World Series in 1995.
Damon would be that type of bridge-player. He's nearing the end of his career, but is still productive. He had 24 homers and 82 RBI, while scoring 107 runs at the top of the vaunted Yankees lineup. He batted .282, and stole 12 bases without being caught. What's more impressive, or scary, is that Damon did this in only 128 starts, and 132 games altogether. At 36, injuries are an issue, but he can still produce.
The Indians could initially plug Damon in left field, and use him in a variety of slots. He can play all the outfield positions, can DH, and even play first in a pinch. He's a lefty and the Indians are likely looking for a cheap righty in any sort of role (to either platoon with Brantley or cover for LaPorta while he's out), but again, it all depends on what the Indians plans are.
Damon would walk into any club with question-marks. He's 36, and it's obvious that many clubs are wary of his abilities. He's likely to drop off soon because of age, and the style of hard-nose playing that can debilitate a player. He also has a horrendous arm that ranks with the worst in the game. Again, he's not the perfect solution to anything the Indians need, but neither was Eddie Murray when they signed him.
So why would this never happen? Well, first and foremost, the Indians aren't looking to add any payroll that may fail, and Damon would fall into that potential category. Judging from the trade involving Kelly Shoppach, the Indians aren't willing to look at a guy for anything over a couple of million dollars, and likely not for more than a year. It may be less money. On the flip side, Damon was initially looking for a two-year deal, worth ten million a year. The Yankees balked, and offered him a two-year deal, worth seven million a year. Damon balked, and the Yankees have since walked. It's believed they'd be willing to offer him anything between a one-year deal worth 2-5 million at this point.
The Indians can't outbid the Yankees, or a couple of other teams that are interested in the outfielder.
I still believe the Indians don't WANT him. I do believe that Acta and Shapiro believe they can surprise some teams in the AL this year. I just believe that it's with the players they have now, as well as perhaps a late spring pitching pickup that can round out the starting rotation.
Now, if Damon came knockin' at the door with some sob story about wanting to put it to the Yankees, and then said he'd play for 1 1/2 million, he'd be with the Tribe the next second. Of course, we all know that's not going to happen.
If he wants to make someone pay, do you really think he'll call Cleveland?
If you answered yes to that, I have a nice World Series trophy for you to buy. It says, Cleveland Indians, 2010 World Champions.
I'm kidding, right?