Six years ago if you’d told me Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon would, in 2011, both sign relatively inexpensive one-year contracts with the Tampa Rays, it would have been jarring. Really, it’s still a bit jarring. Time and change come to us all, yet it’s odd to think how quickly yesterday’s superstars become today’s late-offseason bargains: Manny Ramirez made $20,000,000 last year, and last week he signed for $2,000,000. He didn’t get old overnight, but he started getting paid like an old player overnight. He is still only 38.
The real winners of this move are the few, the proud, the Tampa beat writers and columnists, whose clubhouse just got about 12 times more interesting: Damon is outgoing and easy to talk to and always sticks around to offer goofy quotes, and for a player who rarely talks to the media, Manny manages to provide plenty of material. Not that either new acquisition is destined to be useless, by any means. Damon had quite a lousy 2010, by his standards, but still produced more than the average left fielder, and is a clever enough hitter that he’ll be finding his hits here and there even after his bat speed and power deteriorate further; Manny fell off too, but I wouldn’t want to see him up against my team in the late innings with the game on the line, and I doubt too many pitchers would either. With that said, Damon was, even four or five years ago, not the best fielder- I remember bleacher fans at the Stadium joking about his “perfect 20-hoppers to first” – and hasn’t gotten better with wear and tear, which means right-handed visiting hitters may find their BABIP getting a nice boost in Tampa next year. Manny, of course, will probably not be seen in the outfield unless he jogs out there to urinate between innings.
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Damon is getting paid more than twice as much as his brother-in-hair, even though he’s nowhere near twice as good a player as Ramirez, and just one year younger; I can only assume that Manny’s positive steroid test played a role, and perhaps the lingering ill-feeling after his acrimonious breakup with Boston (where he was more or less accused, at various times, of faking or exaggerating an injury, missing spring training to make promotional appearances, and shoving an elderly traveling secretary to the ground). When I mentioned these signings to a friend, her first thought was that Tampa might be looking for veteran leadership on their young team, and she wondered if it was really a good idea to have Manny try and full that role. But I don’t think any team’s management would view Man-Ram as that kind of figure, although you could do a lot worse that having young players watch the way he hits. I think he’s there for his pop, as well as his talents as a box-office draw and attention grabber. I have a hard time imagining that he won’t give the Rays their $two million’s worth.
For more analysis check out Jay Jaffe over at Pinstriped Bible, talking about how the additions of Damon and Ramirez give the Rays flexibility. I know it’s way too early to surmise anything, but on this frigid winter day I’m not loving the Yankees’ odds against Tampa or Boston.
And speaking of old friends… Bill Clinton had dinner in Miami last week with Alex Rodriguez and Cameron Diaz. While none of those people are on my “If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be?” list, I have to admit that, like the nymag.com headline, I’m curious about what they might have talked about. Other than “so, being incredibly rich: pretty cool, eh?”