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Tigers, Damon close but not imminent

Tigers, Damon close but not imminent

The Johnny Damon watch rolls on into another week.

Though Detroit remains the most likely destination for the free-agent outfielder, no agreement is imminent. Indications suggest the differences between the two sides aren't large, at least in monetary terms, but they're going to require some work.

"We're continuing to negotiate and move forward," agent Scott Boras said Tuesday.

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That doesn't mean that Damon is destined to move forward on a deal with Detroit. The previously reported interest from the Braves and White Sox still appears to be a possibility. But it does mean that talks with the Tigers aren't at a stalemate.

When asked about Damon on Monday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland told WDFN-AM 1130 co-hosts Matt Shepard and Drew Sharp that nothing was happening at the moment, though Leyland cautioned that he has stayed out of any talks.

"I talked with [general manager] Dave Dombrowski this morning," Leyland said. "There's nothing at this particular time going on."

FOXSports.com reported that the Tigers and agent Scott Boras have a "very small" difference on Damon's salary after exchanging proposals, but that nothing is imminent.

The Tigers reportedly could go to $7 million per season for Damon, either on a one- or two-year contract. Such a contract, with owner Mike Ilitch's approval, would push Detroit's 2010 payroll at or above its 2009 level, but it would bring the Tigers the proven leadoff hitter they could use.

"I put it this way: Johnny Damon could help a lot of teams offensively," Leyland continued. "I don't think there's any question about it, and I think we're probably a natural target at this particular time because of the fact that we lost our No. 1 and 2 hitters."

Damon spent last week in Hawaii, where he reportedly took part in a charity golf tournament over the weekend. He lives in Orlando, Fla., so if and when he does agree to terms, he wouldn't have far to go down Interstate 4 to get to Lakeland and finalize matters.

The 36-year-old Damon spent four years with the Yankees, with whom he won his second World Series title in six years last season. Damon's numbers batting second with the World Series champions last year included a .282 average, 107 runs, 36 doubles, 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. His .854 OPS was his highest since he was with Boston in 2004, when he won his first World Series crown.

The overwhelming assumption when the offseason began was that Damon would return to the Yankees, but after rumors and reports of negotiations, New York eventually moved on, leaving Damon looking for a team in a reduced market as the holidays came and went. Boras publicly suggested last month that his client and the Tigers would be a good fit.

The public declaration was part of Boras' effort to get the Tigers interested, despite what had been less than a spending spree by them this winter. Though Detroit added free-agent closer Jose Valverde on a two-year contract a month ago and signed young ace Justin Verlander to a five-year, $80 million extension last month, they had still managed to reduce their payroll from last season after trading Granderson and Edwin Jackson and watching free agents Placido Polanco, Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney sign elsewhere.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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