SEATTLE: Johnny Damon just wants to help.
A 17-year veteran, Damon needs 277 hits to reach 3,000, but he will worry about that some other time, if at all.
“Obviously, I’d like to get it,” the newest Indian said from Goodyear, Ariz., where he is working out before joining his new club. “My track record shows that I play hard and I play to win. That’s why I’ve helped teams win championships, and I’ve helped some teams that aren’t so good be better … So I play for the organization, not for myself.”
Which brings up a salient point. Now that Damon has been officially signed by the Tribe to a $1.25 million minor-league contract (plus another potential $1.4 million in incentives), how much is he going to play?
Damon, 38, is a career left fielder who has started only 44 games in the outfield the past two years but 230 games at designated hitter with the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays.
“I want to show [manager] Manny Acta that I can still do it,” he said. “But if Shelley [Duncan] is the regular, and if he keeps hitting home runs, he’s going to stay there.”
Acta might have a general plan of action in mind, but Damon’s playing time will definitely depend on a variety of circumstances.
“This is not going to be a strict platoon,” Acta said, referring to the fact that Damon bats from the left side and Duncan is right-handed. “I want Shelley to hit in the lineup, too. Johnny’s not coming in here with promises. He knows that we have to put the best team on the field. He understands that.”
General Manager Chris Antonetti echoed his manager, adding: “A lot of factors will play into what role he has, including the productivity of other guys, not just Johnny. I anticipate that Johnny will get the bulk of his at-bats in the outfield but he could get some at DH.”
However, the Indians already have a full-time DH, Travis Hafner, who bats from the same side of the plate as Damon.
Acta will not try to spread at-bats evenly between Damon and the other outfielders.
“No, I’m not going to do that,” he said. “I’m trying to win and put the best team on the field.”
Part of the deal between the Tribe and Damon involves what amounts to a gentleman’s agreement to allow him to go elsewhere if he has the opportunity and if he isn’t getting much face time on the field in Cleveland.
At issue might be the return of Grady Sizemore, probably some time in June. If Sizemore returns to his regular position in center, Michael Brantley presumably would shift back to left and Shin-Soo Choo would play right. That would leave Duncan as an extra outfielder as well as Damon.
Would the Tribe carry all five outfielders? Antonetti said it’s a possibility. Of course, lots of things can happen between now and June.
Last year with the Rays, Damon batted .261 with 29 doubles, 16 homers, 79 runs, 73 RBI and 19 steals in 150 games.
Damon will be an elder statesman and probably take a leadership role on a club comprised mostly of young players. One exception is Derek Lowe, who will be 39 in June.
“This is a team that’s building for the future but has a chance to win now, and that’s a great thing to have,” Damon said. “They’ve locked up a few players, and maybe they will lock of up a few more.
“The No. 1 thing for me is to get there and play as hard and as good as I can. I understand the game of baseball; guys start hitting and you can’t get them out of the lineup. Or I can get hot. But whether I play every day or platoon or play some first base — whatever they want me to do — I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Since Damon was unsigned until now, he will have to go through some sort of spring training regimen, which could take two to three weeks.
“We have to see what kind of physical shape he’s in,” Acta said. “He’ll probably start baseball activity after a couple of days. He’ll have to play in the outfield in extended spring, but I don’t know the exact number or days he’s going to be there or how many at-bats he needs to get. After that, he’ll probably play in Columbus a few days.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.