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Rays of Hope: Damon and Manny

Keeping up in the American League East is not an easy task, but the Tampa Bay Rays have done a good job of competing with the two richest franchises in MLB over the past few years.  And, now the Rays are reuniting teammates Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon who helped the Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino in 2004.

Johnny Damon: Rays new left fielder

Johnny Damon: Rays new left fielder

Damon, 37, will get $5.25 million plus $750,000 in attendance clauses while Ramirez,38, will pick up $2 million.  Its a bargain basement price for the two ex-Red Sox stars.  Damon earned $13 million per year from 2006 – 2009 with the Yankees.  Ramirez signed a $45 million contract for two years with the Dodgers in 2009 – 2010.

Damon is a career .287 hitter with 215 homers, 1,047 RBI and 385 steals in 16 seasons with Kansas City, Oakland, Boston, New York and Detroit. Ramirez is a career .313 hitter who has blasted 555 home runs (12th on the all-time list) and driven in 1,830 runs during 18 big league seasons with the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers and White Sox.

Johnny Damon, who is now close to his hometown of Orlando,  batted .271 with eight home runs and 51 RBI his lone season for Detroit in 2010–his first season outside of the AL East since he played with the A’s in 2001.

Ramirez suffered through the worst power season of his career in 2010, hitting only 9 homers and driving in only 42 runs, while hitting .298 for the Dodgers and White Sox.  In 2009, the mercurial Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating MLB’s substance abuse policy.  He ended 2009 with a .290 average, 19 homers, and 63 RBI.

The Rays had a disastrous off-season in losing stars Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Jason Bartlett and they clearly need a short term fix to fill some of those offensive holes.  The likely opening day lineup for Tampa Bay, according to USA Today, now looks like this:

1.  Johnny Damon LF

Manny will be Manny in Tampa.

Manny will be Manny in Tampa.

2.  John Jaso C
3.  Ben Zobrist RF
4.  Evan Longoria 3B
5.  Manny Ramirez DH
6.  BJ Upton  CF
7.  Dan Johnson 1B
8.  Sean Rodriguez 2B
9.  Reid Brignac SS

It’s hard to believe that the Rays wouldn’t prefer to have B.J. Upton in the leadoff spot given that Upton has stolen over 42 bases in each of the past three seasons.  That being said, Rays manager Joe Maddon likes to switch up his batting order often.

Fantasy Baseball 2011 Projection:

The concern for the Rays is where do you play two DH’s?  Damon played just 36 games in the outfield last year for the Tigers and was the DH for 97 games.  Damon is not a great defensive outfielder and his arm is poor so he’s clearly a left fielder and Upton is going to have to cover a lot of ground to help him out.  As for Ramirez, there’s no doubt that he is a DH; he may not even bring his glove to spring training.

Johnny Damon —  The question for the Rays is whether they are better off with Damon at the top of the lineup or down in the 6 hole.  Damon cracked 24 homers, tied for tops in his career in 2009, but his homerun production dropped off to 9 with the Tigers in Comerica Park last year. Damon is not the base stealing threat that he was earlier in his career; he only has 23 steals in the past two seasons, but he keeps himself very healthy, has maintained his speed, and has been a reliable player over the years.  Still, at age 37, its hard to think Damon will have a huge rebound in his power numbers.  We project Damon at .275 with 13 homers and 50 RBI with 15 steals if he hits in the leadoff spot where #1 hitters typically get an extra .5 at bats per game over hitting in the # 6 hole.

Manny Ramirez — “Manny being Manny” has been the mantra for Ramirez over the years.  It seems as though if Manny is happy, he plays better — a lot better.  Joe Maddon is a player’s manager and I think the two of them will get along well.  While the last two years seem to indicate that Ramirez is on a serious decline, we still think he has some life left in him if he reports to spring training in the right shape and right state of mind.  Ramirez had a solid first half of the year in 2010, hitting .322 with 8 HR, and 39 RBI.  Calf and hamstring injuries led to a disastrous second half of the year and 3 separate stints on the DL.  But, a key factor in looking at a hitter’s projection is his line drive percentage.  Ramirez was steady with a 23% rate, same as he had in 2008 when he hit 37 homers and drove in 121.  Ramirez will be an important part of the Rays lineup as Manny can help protect Longoria so we think he can pick up 400 at bats and end the year with a .290 average, 20 homers, and 70 RBI.

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