Damon confirms he was claimed by Red Sox; hasn't decided if he'll return

191542.jpg

Damon confirms he was claimed by Red Sox; hasn't decided if he'll return

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

A few weeks ago, the question was whether or not Johnny Damon would be cheered when he returned to Boston in something other than a Yankee uniform. Alas, he got hurt, missed the entire weekend series between the Sox and Tigers, and it remained a mystery.

But how about if he came back in a Red Sox uniform?

That once-unthinkable scenario took on life Monday afternoon when the Sox claimed Damon on waivers from the Tigers, starting the clock ticking on a 48-hour period in which the teams must reach agreement on a trade . . . and a period in which Damon must waive a clause in his contract prohibiting a trade to Boston. The news was originally reported by Jon Heyman of SI.com, and confirmed by Damon to the Detroit media.

"Right now, I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit," Damon told the media there on Monday afternoon, as quoted by Tom Gage in the Detroit News. "That's what is good about having time to make a decision. "But it feels weird. It's a pretty awkward decision -- probably tougher now to go back to Boston than it was leave Boston to go to New York. "At this moment I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit for that. I'll have to think long and hard about it. "I had a great time playing there, but once it became apparent that I wasn't a necessity to re-sign there, it started to get ugly. "I have to think about if once again I'll be probably one of the nicest guys in baseball in the opinion of the fans in Boston but also the most hated guy in baseball in the opinion of the fans in New York. That's what it boils down to." If he listens to some his ex-teammates, he'll be on the next plane East.
"Yeaahaa! Party like a rock star!" said David Ortiz, who then turned serious about possible closure for Damon with the Sox fan baseafter being treated like the baseball version of Judas in subsequent trips to Fenway Park after the 2005 season."I'm pretty sureif he decided to come back . . . he could put it all back together with the fans. They can forget about the Yankees thing," said Ortiz.
"I'm going to call him right now. Let me call him right now. Everybody knows what kind of player Johnny is, so he definitely would bring some excitement around here."The Sox -- who, because they're lower in the standings than Tampa Bay and New York, got a shot at claiming Damon before either of those teams -- may simply be attempting to block Damon from getting to the Rays or the Yankees, both of whom presumably would have interest. But that didn't stop his ex-teammates from getting excited about the possibility of being reunited.

"I think it would be great," Tim Wakefield told Alex Speier of WEEI.com. "Obviously, with outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron out probably for the rest of the year, if we're going to make a push for the postseason, he'd be a great addition.

"He knows how to play here. He was a huge fan favorite here. It would be great for the city of Boston and great for him."

Jason Varitek called Damon "a special player" and -- while he called his potential return "wishful thinking right now" -- added "Johnny knows how I feel about him" and said he "might" make a call to try and convince him to come back.

Damon -- with his carefree spirit and long, flowing hair -- was the much-beloved symbol of the Cowboy UpIdiots version of the Red Sox that broke Boston's 86-year World Series drought in 2004. He was a solid defensive center fielder and an offensive force at the top of the order, posting an OPS-plus of over 100 in three of his four seasons with the Sox. He batted over .300 twice, scored more than 100 runs every year, and seemed as indispensable a cog as there was on the Sox.

But when his contract expired at the end of the 2005 season, the Sox front office was in disarray after the surprise (and, as it turned out, temporary) resignation of general manager Theo Epstein, and Damon's negotiations seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Damon became irritated with the pace of the talks and unhappy with the team's four-year, 40 million offer. When the Yankees swooped in with a take-it-or-leave-it-RIGHT-NOW bid of four years and 52 million -- with the stipulation that Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, couldn't take it back to the Red Sox for them to match or top -- he accepted.

And, in the process, become Public Enemy Number One hereabouts.

The move was a gut-wrenching one for Damon, and he later said he and his family cried over the prospect of leaving Boston. But he'd made the mistake of saying he'd "never" sign with the Yankees in a May 2005 interview with mlb.com, "even if they offer more money" . . . and when he wound up doing exactly that, fans locally erupted in fury.

Sox fans savagely booed Damon when he returned to Fenway Park for the first time with the Yankees in May 2006, and never let up during his four years with New York. It wasn't so much that he'd left -- after all, many members of the 2004 champions were gone by '06, and all of them were greeted warmly when they came back to Fenway -- but that he'd left to go to the Yankees. That Damon eventually embraced the Yankee culture and talked about how much he loved it in New York only made it worse.

But he and the Yanks parted ways last offseason, in much the same clumsy way Damon left the Red Sox, and he wound up signing a one-year contract with the Tigers at the beginning of spring training. Speculation was that Damon in Detroit was far less onerous than Damon in New York, and that he'd be re-embraced -- or at least not virulently hated -- by the fans in Boston this year.

Now he may be back on their side.

The injury-ravaged Sox could use him. He's hitting .270 with a .355 on-base percentage in 111 games so far this year and could provide the lineup with a much-needed bat. He's no longer an adequate center fielder, but he could play left field. And his return would provide closure to a sadly ruptured relationship.

But will he agree to come back? And can the sides agree on a trade?

Stay tuned.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.