Damon, Ramirez give Maddon options

January, 22, 2011
1/22/11
4:29
AM ET
Did anyone see this coming? (Actually, yeah, sort of.)

Introducing the Tampa Bay Rays' latest acquisitions:
    A couple of former Red Sox are reuniting in another American League East city.

    The Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to one-year deals with free agents Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, sources confirmed to ESPN.com.

    Damon agreed to a one-year deal worth $5.25 million plus incentives and Ramirez one year at $2 million, according to SI.com. Both deals are pending physicals. Damon will likely play left field and Ramirez designated hitter.

    --snip--

    Ramirez and Damon played together for years in Boston and helped lead the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series title. Both colorful characters are past their prime, but if nothing else they could at least provide an attraction at Tropicana Field for a Rays team that drew just 1.86 million fans last year.

That would be a lot of fun for everyone, if the fans flocked to Tropicana to see these old Red Sox (etc.) go for the glory one more time.

But the fans didn't flock to Tropicana after the Rays nearly won a World Series. It's hard to imagine them flocking to see a couple of ex-Red Sox, old or young or in between.

I think this is simply the product of a management team that's grown accustomed to relevance, and isn't willing to just punt a season until absolutely necessary. Remember, this is a franchise that finished ahead of the Red Sox and the Yankees in both 2008 and 2010. And now they're just supposed to give up? When the Yankees have three legitimate starting pitchers and one of them is A.J. Burnett and nobody other than the Yankees and the Red Sox seem like good bets to win 90 games?

Would you give up? I wouldn't, and the Rays quite obviously haven't.

They're not fanatical about it. The Rays sort of gave up in late August 2009, when they still had a weak shot at getting into the playoffs. They looked at the odds and figured they would have to keep Scott Kazmir and get really, really lucky. So they traded Kazmir, and wound up winning 84 games.

But considering the young talent on the Rays' roster, January is just too early to give up.

Now, everyone's going to wonder how JohnnyBeingJohnny and MannyBeingManny are going to fit into the Rays' lineup. Wasn't Desmond Jenning supposed to take over in left field? Won't Manny just up and quit if the Rays ask him to platoon?

Sort of (but only sort of) and yes, probably.

Sort of, because Jennings didn't actually play all that well last year and the Rays probably aren't convinced that he's ready to play every day for a contending club. And yes, if anyone even mentions platooning to Ramirez, he'll probably make Derek Bell's Operation Shutdown look like Craig Counsell at the peak of his awesome powers.

Manny's the DH, and Damon's the left fielder. But how many games will Manny play, realistically? The Rays' first baseman right now is Dan Johnson, who I like but has hit nine home runs in the majors since 2007. Is Johnson the answer? Maybe. He's not the worst Plan A in first-base history. But you sorta need a Plan B and maybe a Plan C.

Well, Johnny Damon's not the worst Plan C. He seems small but he's actually listed at 6'2", and he's been fooling around at first base for years. Granted, you don't really want him playing first base and he might not get a single inning there this season. My point is that Damon does give the Rays some flexibility, able to play three or four positions even if none of them all that well.

Of course the Rays have a lot of guys like that. Some managers are thrilled with one Super Utility Player. Joe Maddon's got a couple of them in Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez. And he's going to need some utility, considering Johnson's history and Jennings' youth and Manny's being Manny and all the rest.

There's no reason to think Maddon can't take all these guys and figure out what do with them. Granted, he's never had to manage Manny Ramirez. If he can do what he's always done and get along with Ramirez ... Well, he might have the Manager of the Year Award locked up by the All-Star break.

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