Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon with the Red Sox
The Tampa Bay Rays roster has been picked apart this offseason, with a lot of players being signed by their American League East rivals. The Rays tried to get back at the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees by signing a pair of their former players, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. These veterans will be welcomed into Tampa Bay to add experience and talent to a team who has the talent but not much experience.
Last year with the Detroit Tigers, Damon hit .271 with eight home runs and 51 RBI in 145 games. While Manny Ramirez played only 90 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox due to injury, which could be a concern for the Rays going forward. In 2010, Ramirez hit .298 with nine home runs and 42 RBI.
Initially, these signings look great for the Rays, but if you are wondering how they fit into the Rays lineup and clubhouse, I will give you a couple of examples.
Manny Ramirez with the Los Angeles Dodgers
When you looked at the Tampa Bay Rays lineup before the signing of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon there was no one to give Evan Longoria the necessary protection. It could have either been B.J. Upton, who doesn't offer much protection, or Ben Zobrist, who could have done the job but teams don't really fear pitching to Zorilla. Now here is when the signing of Manny is huge.
Yes, I know, Manny isn't being Manny lately, but in 2008 he did hit 37 home runs while batting .332. That stat line will not only provide protection for Longoria, but will also help Rays fans forget about Carlos Pena. So with Longoria batting third and Manny batting cleanup, where does Johnny Damon fit in?
Projecting a lineup put together by Rays skipper Joe Maddon is no easy task. I believe Damon will start the season in the No. 2 spot, but he could also move up and down the lineup to maybe even the No. 6 spot. The Rays lineup is nowhere near being set, and probably won't be until the end of spring training.
Johnny Damon Catch
Manny Ramirez will be playing DH for the Rays, which fills a big void. The Rays haven't had a true DH in past seasons. Last year, Pat Burrell started the season as the Rays DH, but that didn't work out so well. The rest of the season they used Willy Aybar, Matt Joyce, Dan Johnson and other players they wanted to rest. Ramirez will give them stability and performance in the DH spot.
Johnny Damon should start spring training in left field, which has been occupied by Carl Crawford since 2002. Desmond Jennings was lined up to take over left field and replace Crawford because of his speed, but with his inexperience in the majors, it would be best if he were eased into the position. In 2010, Damon had a .964 fielding percentage with 51 putouts, and in 2009 he had a .978 fielding percentage with 220 putouts in left field. Damon is a great left fielder, and although it will be hard for Rays fans to forget about Crawford, he will do just fine.
Manny Ramirez is an 18-year veteran and has plenty of experience to offer the younger Rays players. But how sure can you be that Ramirez will begin to cause trouble in the clubhouse if the Rays don't perform as well as expected? Personally, I am not worried about him being an issue, but I know some Rays fans are. Especially after a season when there have been some conflicts in the clubhouse between Rays players.
Matt Garza and Dioner Navarro, who are no longer with the team, had an altercation in the dugout in the middle of a game. B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria almost fought in the dugout during another game. So the Rays haven't necessarily had the best clubhouse, but they have shown great chemistry as a team and tend to have fun playing together. With both of these signings being one-year deals I don't believe Ramirez and Johnny Damon will come into Tampa and cause trouble if the Rays don't win. They know they have to be the veteran voices in the clubhouse helping Longoria lead the team.
At first glance you would think that the Tampa Bay Rays have been crippled by all of the offseason losses this year, but you should take a second look. Outside of the bullpen, every player that was lost has a replacement. With Manny Ramirez filling the DH spot and Johnny Damon bringing his talent to left field, the Rays are better than most think. It has yet to be seen if they can compete with the Red Sox and Yankees, but they are on the right track.