Indians close to signing OF Johnny Damon

By Tom Withers

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 5:20 p.m. MDT

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians may have found a boost for their stagnant offense.

The team is nearing a deal with free agent outfielder Johnny Damon, who is just 277 hits away from 3,000 and was looking to catch on with a team to prolong his career.

Both need help.

Damon needs hits to reach the milestone. The Indians simply need hits.

Agent Scott Boras has been in talks with Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, who has been looking for a player to help a Cleveland team off to a 1-4 start and batting just .176 — worst in the majors. The sides were still working on terms of the deal, which could include an opt-out clause once Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore returns from the disabled list.

Sizemore, who underwent minor back surgery last month, is not eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list until June 3. Damon could provide a stopgap in center or if he produces, the Indians may want to keep him for the entire season.

The 38-year-old sent a text message to the Associated Press saying the deal "should be done soon."

Once an agreement is reached, Damon, who could play left or center field, must pass a physical. And although he's in excellent shape, Damon will likely need some time to get ready to play after not going to training camp or face live pitching since last season.

Damon played with Tampa Bay — his sixth AL team — last season. He batted .261 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 150 games, 135 as the club's designated hitter. If Damon signs with Cleveland, the Indians would be his fourth team in four years.

The Indians need someone to ignite their lineup.

Cleveland went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position during a 10-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. The Indians set a season-high for runs and hits but didn't get any in the clutch.

Afterward, manager Manny Acta said he wasn't concerned about the slow start.

"Five games is not going to make me panic about my bullpen, my offense, defense or anything like that," Acta said. "We have to give it a little more time."

The Indians traveled to Kansas City on Thursday night. They begin a three-game series against the Royals on Friday.

Antonetti has been looking for offensive help this spring. He recently had talks with the Los Angeles Angels about a trade for Bobby Abreu but a deal never materialized.

A career .286 hitter, Damon has also played for Kansas City, Oakland, Boston, the New York Yankees and Detroit. One of baseball's good guys, Damon's presence alone in Cleveland's clubhouse will benefit the young Indians, who can learn from his work ethic seek advice as they did last season when slugger Jim Thome returned to the Indians.

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