Yanks, Tigers to reunite with familiar faces
In tilt, Granderson returns to Lakeland; Damon scratched
Johnny Damon has put no veil on the fact that he would've liked to have remained a Yankee in the ideal situation. Now, he's out to prove to New York and plenty of other baseball cities that the Tigers made a very good signing.
Curtis Granderson would've gladly remained a Tiger for the rest of his career. Now that he's a Yankee, traded out of Detroit, he's ready to show that he has a breakout season in him in pinstripes.
The two reunions will be part of one big meeting on Wednesday afternoon at 1:05 ET at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., where the Tigers will host the Yankees in a Spring Training tilt, although Damon was scratched from the lineup with turf toe. It's the first of five meetings between the two clubs this spring, but the first one will probably be the biggest.
Being a Tigers home game, it'll certainly be big for Granderson.
"I've already seen a few of them," Granderson said of the Tigers, "but to get a chance to go over to Lakeland, where I trained since 2003, is going to be exciting. I'm not sure how many people they're going to have there tomorrow, but that's one of the days on the calendar that is marked."
It was probably marked on Damon's calendar, too.
The two players changed teams in separate deals more than two months apart, but they're likely to be linked all season whether they want to be or not. They weren't dealt for each other, but they might as well have been, because they're most likely going to be compared, as will each team's performance will be compared to last season.
Though manager Jim Leyland has put his priority on filling out his pitching rotation, the success or failure of the Tigers' offense is probably going to be linked with the club's decision to trade Granderson, coming off a 30-homer season, to the Yankees. He was a fixture atop Detroit's lineup for four years, and the Tigers are counting on rookie center fielder Austin Jackson -- the key player in the return package for Granderson -- to take over at leadoff.
The current plan calls for Damon to bat second, technically making him the replacement for Placido Polanco in the batting order, but his role as an offensive catalyst high in the order might well resemble Granderson. If the Tigers eventually decide to move Damon to leadoff, the comparisons will be unavoidable.
Damon tried to downplay them when he signed, but he also kind of set it up.
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"I don't know. I mean, I'm really not into that," Damon said at the time. "I think it's going to be [a comparison of] whatever team is better. Whoever's team is better wins. I mean, that's the bottom line. There's always going to be comparisons in this game. Curtis is the one [whose development] stopped my progress from signing with Detroit five years ago.
"Detroit was the top team I wanted to sign with going into free agency, and they let us know early on they had a young kid named Curtis Granderson who they were going to give a shot to. It's funny how we switch teams at this point in my career."
The Yankees acquired Granderson to fill their outfield void that opened when Damon became a free agent. Once they made the move, the perceived chance of Damon returning to the Bronx went from relatively strong to extremely weak. Thus began Damon's seemingly interminable stay on the free-agent market until the Tigers, needing offensive help, signed him to a one-year, $8 million contract.
Whether or not Damon turned down a chance to re-sign with the Yankees for a two-year contract worth as much as $20 million remains a hot topic to this day, as does whether Damon and agent Scott Boras misread the market. Even as Damon talked at his news conference about why he signed with Detroit, much of the questions revolved around leaving New York.
"I'm absolutely at peace as far as signing with the Tigers," Damon said then. "That chapter of my career became officially over. Who knows what happens down the road?"
Granderson is on the Yankees' travel roster for the trip, and Damon has had the last couple days off after playing four consecutive games before that. Another former Tigers outfielder from last year, Marcus Thames, is scheduled to make the trip after signing a Minor League deal with the Yankees last month.
While the two reunions will be big, the two clubs have plenty of other key players to watch. The Yankees will send Joba Chamberlain to the mound watching his progress, while Tigers starter Armando Galarraga will try to improve his chances at snatching a rotation spot.
Teenage right-hander Jacob Turner, Detroit's first-round Draft pick last summer, is scheduled to make his first appearance in an official Spring Training game. He'll pitch in relief somewhere in the middle innings.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.