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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Report: Rays to Sign Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez

The Rays did a lot of subtracting this winter, but they have finally gotten around to making some additions -- big ones.

Tampa Bay has agreed to terms with both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, reports. The deals are pending physicals and could be officially announced Saturday. Damon actually signed his contract Friday, according to Newsday.

Both are signing at bargain rates, especially relative to what they have earned many seasons in their long careers. Damon will make $5.25 million and could add $750,000 more in attendance bonuses. Ramirez will play (the Rays hope) for a mere $2 million.

Aside from serving as an instant reunion of the 2004 Red Sox, the twin signings should give the Rays some offensive help and perhaps a boost in attendance -- two much-needed quantities after a winter spent watching much of the core of their 2008 and 2010 AL East title teams depart.            

The savings realized by the mass exodus from Tropicana Field -- Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, Dan Wheeler and so on -- cleared a lot more money than the Rays will take on with these two deals and previous signings of relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta.

But adding the newcomers to a holdover group that includes young All-Stars Evan Longoria and David Price could give the Rays a chance to remain in contention in the rugged East in 2011 instead of just punting on this season and focusing on 2012 and 2013.

Not that either Damon or Ramirez is a sure thing at this point, of course. If they were, they wouldn't be signing deals like these. But if Damon can maintain some level of productivity and Joe Maddon can keep Ramirez interested throughout the six-month grind, the Rays might have a shot to make some noise. If mid-July rolls around and the experiment hasn't worked, general manager Andrew Friedman shouldn't have much trouble flipping either player to a contender for the stretch run.

Now the question will be how Maddon slots the newcomers into his lineup on a daily basis. Both are essentially designated hitters, and while DH has been a black hole in Tampa Bay the last two seasons thanks to the disastrous Pat Burrell signing, Damon and Ramirez can't both be in there on the same day.

Damon could still see some time in the outfield and perhaps first base, where the Rays are currently have Dan Johnson penciled in to start, but it's difficult to imagine Ramirez getting much time with the glove, especially considering how seriously the Rays take their defense. Whatever happens, you can bet left field will look a whole lot different than it has with Crawford patrolling it the better part of the last decade.

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