A long, cold winter appears poised to thaw for outfielder Johnny Damon, who is mulling offers from Detroit and Atlanta with the Chicago White Sox in the mix as well, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
Damon, who helped freeze himself out of the Bronx by declining a Yankees offer earlier this winter, now has multiple options as the start of spring camp draws near. He is expected to make a decision in the next few days.
Detroit's offer, confirmed by sources on Thursday, is believed to be for significantly more money than that of Atlanta, which extended an offer at mid-week. Agent Scott Boras, who has a history of coaxing Detroit owner Mike Ilitch into financial territory beyond where Tigers baseball people are comfortable (see Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez), reportedly has received an offer from Detroit with variations that could be worth $7 million over one year or $14 million over two.
The Braves' offer, according to multiple reports, is in the neighborhood of $4 million for one year with a portion of that deferred.
That Atlanta's pitch to Damon would be lukewarm makes sense because, in the National League, Damon would have to play full time in the outfield, where scouts say his skills have deteriorated. Damon, never blessed with a strong throwing arm, was moved from center to left field by the Yankees in 2009.
In Detroit -- or, with the White Sox -- Damon could serve as a designated hitter. Though, the Tigers also have an aging Carlos Guillen, so Damon likely would get some outfield time as well.
In the Detroit and Atlanta scenarios, Damon would fill a specific need: Leadoff hitter. In Chicago, Damon would help fill top-of-the-order needs as well, but the White Sox also acquired Juan Pierre from the Dodgers earlier this winter.
The Braves believe they've never had a true leadoff hitter. Detroit, which lost the AL Central lead on the last weekend of the 2009 season, since has cut loose Placido Polanco (who signed with Philadelphia) and traded Curtis Granderson (Yankees). The White Sox, who used Chris Getz and Scott Podsednik atop the order last year, also have long felt they've lacked a true leadoff hitter. Thus, Pierre, and, perhaps Damon (who, at the very least, would give the White Sox another needed lefty bat).
The Braves could be attractive to Damon for a couple of reasons: President John Schuerholz was the general manager in Kansas City when the Royals made Damon their first-round pick in 1992, and they train in Orlando, Fla., where Damon makes his off-season home. Furthermore, Orlando is a short flight from Atlanta, one that Damon could easily make on Braves off days during the season.
The Tigers' money, though, is expected by many in the industry to make Damon overlook all that.
Meantime, Damon, 36, would arrive with flashing caution lights in at least some areas: He's older, his defense has eroded some and there is some sentiment that his offensive numbers last year were inflated by new Yankee Stadium's hitter-friendly demeanor. While he equaled a career-high with 24 home runs, 17 of those were at home. The other seven all came in AL East division ballparks.