Attention all national pundits: Please put all talk of the Rays shrinking back into the bottom of the AL East on hold. Tampa Bay Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman has a different memo for you to report:
A Third AL East Division Crown in four years.
Don't think it can happen? The Rays lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano and pretty much their entire bullpen, you say? They traded away Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, you say?
Friedman has a different update for you: The Tampa Bay Rays have signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to one-year contracts.
What in the name of Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs is going on here? No matter what Friedman says, you can translate it best this way: How do you like me now?
The Rays have added Damon and Ramirez for a combined $7.25 million, with up to a total of 8 million dollars, including incentives. That's less than the Yankees paid for Soriano to be a set up man. Or less than half of what Boston paid Crawford to man left field at Fenway.
A new Rays lineup will look something like this:
C John Jaso
LF Johnny Damon
DH Manny Ramirez
3B Evan Longoria
CF B.J. Upton
RF Matt Joyce
2B Ben Zobrist
1B Dan Johnson
SS Reid Brignac
In these two signings the Rays have added power, on-base skills, contact hitting and some major lineup protection for star third baseman Evan Longoria. In 2010, the Rays struggled with strikeouts. They had major holes in their swings and struggled with hot and cold streaks because of it. Now, the Rays lineup is much more balanced. And much more dangerous.
You may say Ramirez has injury and attitude question marks. A move to DH should help his injury problems. And as for attitude issues, nothing could motivate him more than getting back at his former Red Sox team and sticking it to the Yankees.
On a day that included the Toronto Blue Jays being able to get rid of the albatross contract of Vernon Wells, the Tampa Bay Rays have stolen the headlines. But no matter what you may think of this deal, this much is sure:
The AL East will be the best division in baseball. Again.