The Tampa Bay Rays lost virtually all of the top-ranked bullpen in the American League, the best player in franchise history, the 2009 American League home run leader, their No. 2 starter and their starting shortstop this offseason. In the eyes of many, they also lost an opportunity to defend their AL East crown.
One thing they did not do, however, is lose their interest in the eyes of Red Sox fans.
By signing both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, the Rays made their 18 games with Boston that much more intriguing. When it looked as if the dynamic between the two teams would look one-sided once again, one team ripping the other limb from limb (Boston won 73 percent of the meetings from 2001-05), it has been reborn as one loaded with AL East artifacts. It’s almost incestuous, the Rays now claiming two of Boston’s most memorable players from last decade and the Red Sox loaded up with Carl Crawford and Dan Wheeler, a pair of guys who had more years as a Devil Ray than a Ray, just to show how old school they are in Tampa Bay.
The signings may have caused many in New England to chuckle, first for the fact that Ramirez and Damon are long past their salad years in Boston and second for their partnership in one of the oddest plays in recent memory. Yet, very few Red Sox fans are necessarily shaking in their boots over the upgrades. They’re simply giddy over the prospect of seeing two of the top "idiots" together again on a division rival, especially one that had seemingly lost its luster.
Now, in addition to holdovers such as Evan Longoria and David Price, Tampa Bay will roll into town with the two lynchpins of Boston’s glorious title run of 2004, neither of which strike fear into the hearts of their opponents anymore. It’s the best of both worlds for Red Sox fans.
But before the Fenway faithful get ready to laugh some more at their dearly departed superstars now mired on a team in transition, they should recognize that those 18 games just got that much more difficult. Damon is not the player he was when he looked like Jesus, but he still provides some production and will be a welcome presence in a clubhouse loaded with youth. B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce could each glean a few things from the veteran Damon.
In addition, the Rays got the pair for just over $7 million, with Ramirez taking up only $2 million. Together they come cheap, and Ramirez could be the best bargain in baseball this year. Sure, he's approaching 39 and coming off his first real down season, but he was hampered by a hernia and has never had the opportunity to serve exclusively as a designated hitter for a full year. If he can use that role to squeeze out one more Ramirez-like year, it'll be the best $2 million Tampa Bay could've spent.
As it stands, his .870 OPS in 2010 was higher than everyone on the Rays but Longoria, and Tampa Bay had some of the worst production of any team in the AL at DH. He will be an upgrade, and a cheap one.
Damon and Ramirez will not make up for the fleecing of the Rays' roster, unless either of them can come out of the bullpen to get a big out in the eighth. But they did make Tampa Bay better, they didn’t break the team’s bank and they just spiced up a rivalry that was in danger of going down a notch.
Will the additions of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez help keep the Red Sox-Rays rivalry going? Share your thoughts below.