As several baseball pundits have commented, the Tampa Bay Rays signing of Manny Ramirez to a one-year, $2 million contract for the 2011 season could be one of the absolute steals of the off-season, or quite possibly, a monumental bust.
On Friday night news broke that the Rays had signed Ramirez and former Royal/A/Red Sox/Yankee/Tiger Johnny Damon, which definitely has to excite some local fans despondent over the vast number of productive players who have departed via free agency or trades (Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, Joaquin Benoit, etc.). The two players still need to clear physical exams before the signings will become official.
As a somewhat neutral observer (I certainly enjoy and root for the Rays, but my heart bleeds San Francisco Giants orange and black), I would say that Damon can still hit, and thus satiates an obvious need for the Rays, who for years even with their success the past three years have always craved more offense. Damon at 37 is a natural for designated hitter, but unfortunately for the Rays, he'll actually be governing the spot that Carl Crawford has occupied for much of the past decade left field. Although left field is considered the best place to put an outfielder without a strong arm, trust me, Damon's liabilities with his throwing abilities could prove deleterious next season.
But Damon has to play in the field, because Manny Ramirez certainly can't. Well, he did for almost two full years in Los Angeles. Let's just say at this stage of his career (he's 39) he's definitely more natural at the DH position.
And what about Manny? The Washington Heights native (in New York) has had an incredible career that has been marred by controversy over the past couple of years. He alienated Red Sox Nation in 2008 when it appeared to many that he was dogging it after the BoSox decided they weren't going to pay him the huge contract that he was demanding. Considering the team had just won its 2nd championship in four seasons, it left an indelibly sour image to many fans after he received his wish and was ultimately traded.
But he did turn them on in Southern California, as it became more evident that he was faking injuries when he completely blossomed in the National League, helping the Dodgers make the playoffs that year. But in 2009 he got busted for using an artificial testosterone and a female fertility drug (i.e. performance enhancing drugs) and had to serve a 50-game suspension.
The magic was gone from L.A. last year, and he was ultimately traded to the Chicago White Sox, who dumped him in the off-season.
Now, a couple of things.