The Tampa Bay Rays made some bold moves on Friday, coming to contract terms with some veteran players still trying to hang around in the big leagues.
Two former teammates in Boston, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, get back together in the AL East. Damon was signed to a one-year, $5.25 million contract and Ramirez to a one-year, $2 million contract.
This has been a very tough offseason for a team that over the last three seasons, progressed better than anyone in the league, considering where there were as a franchise.
The Rays—or Devil Rays—won no more than 70 games in each of their first 10 seasons. After becoming the Rays and changing their image, they magically won 97 games in 2008 and made it all the way to the World Series. They would go down to the Phillies in five games, but at least they showed people that there was another powerhouse around.
After having a decent season but missing the playoffs in 2009, the Rays won 96 games last season and returned to the playoffs. They'd lose in five games to Cliff Lee and the Rangers in the ALDS, knowing that this was to be their last promising season.
That's because all of their young players that helped the Rays win two of three AL East titles, were going to leave due to a very low budget in Tampa Bay. Some of the players that left were Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, and Rafael Soriano to name a few. That's a ton of talent coming off the team in one offseason.
What kind of impact will these deals have on the Rays?
Crawford and Soriano perhaps are the biggest losses. Crawford had developed into an All-Star caliber outfielder and base stealer, and Soriano was the American League's best reliever last season. More importantly, they both went to an intra-division rival—Crawford to the Red Sox and Soriano to the Yankees.
In other words, after three seasons of exciting baseball and threatening to win the World Series, the Rays are back to what they were pre-2008. That's only until Friday, according to the Rays; they figured that trading in the younger talent for washed up veterans would be the best way to go about making up for their losses.
It's true that Damon and Ramirez have resumes and are popular players. But, at this point, what are they on the field?
Johnny Damon is 37 years old and saw a major drop off in production last season in his only year in Detroit. He hit only eight home runs, the least of any season for him since 1997 with the Royals. He only drove in 51 runs, the least of any season for him since 2001 with the Athletics.
He is not the player he was anymore in Boston and the Bronx. He doesn't have the speed he had in his prime, nor the power, nor the ability to play everyday in the outfield.
He spent most of his time last season as a designated hitter for the Tigers, but that makes the move to acquire both him and Manny confusing. If Damon can only be a DH at this point, what's Manny going to be?
As a Dodger last season, Manny spent some time in the outfield being the goofball he is, but played every game as a White Sox as a DH. He'll be 39 during the season and just like Damon, he's past his prime.
He did manage to bat .298, but only hit nine home runs in 90 games last season. That's a pace for 16 home runs—only he won't play in 162 games anymore.
Obviously, they both can't be the DH and neither of them can really perform in the outfield. What's even more concerning for the Rays is that both older players would have to play in the outfield on turf. You'd figure either player would want to go to a team that plays 81 games on grass. So, therefore, health becomes a concern.
Most likely, Damon will be the one to get more time in the outfield, replacing Crawford, and Manny will be the primary DH.
Still, signing these two doesn't make the Rays any stronger than they were a day ago. Perhaps instead of winning 75 games, they'll win 78.
It's not going to draw any fans to the stadium if that was the plan. Nobody showed up for a 95-win team that was a pennant contender, so nobody will show up to see two players finishing off their careers.