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Rays Sign Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon for $7.25M

I'm still in shock. This feels like something out of a dream. This is probably the Rays' biggest splash on the free agent market, and they managed to pull in two above-average players for less than Derrek Lee is making with the Orioles. This is the definition of a coup.

But wait a minute, I'm getting ahead of myself. In case you didn't hear the news, the Rays signed both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon last night, with Manny making $2M and Damon making $5.25M plus incentives. Manny signed for less than Jeff Francouer is making this year (h/t bobr), and will serve as the Rays' designated hitter. Damon's deal is a bit more expensive, but Damon is less of an overall risk and will likely slide in as the Rays' new left fielder. Both of these players will give Maddon more options, allowing him to move players around and play match-ups (as he is wont to do).

We covered Johnny Damon yesterday, and this move maximizes Damon's value. His bat his declining, yet still above average, and he's still got above average range out in left field. His arm is pitiful and makes his total defensive set merely average, but by playing the field every day, Damon is a near lock to put up at least 2 Wins Above Replacement in left field. He's aging, but at the same time Damon has never played in less than 140 games in a season since the first year of his career (and that was 1995). He'll hit for a strong average, walk a good amount, hit for a moderate amount of power (and possibly see a power spike moving away from Comerica Park), and play nearly every day. 

Manny Ramirez is a bit tougher to project. He missed some time last season due to injuries, and scouts seem to feel that his bad speed has declined. Maybe this was a result of his injury or maybe it's for real: after all, the man will be 39 years old this season. However, even with battling injuries and a declining bat, Manny posted a .298 / .409 / .460 line, good for a .870 OPS and a .382 wOBA. That's a better line than anyone on the Rays posted last season, including Longoria and Crawford; Longoria had a higher slugging yet lower on base percentage and wOBA, while Crawford had a higher batting average and slugging, yet lower everything else. Even if Manny's bat doesn't improve any from last season, he's still an incredible hitter and will likely be the best DH the Rays have ever had.

Oh, and per Peter Gammons, Manny is in "unbelievable shape". Remember, he's only one season removed from hitting a homerun ever 22 plate appearances, better than everyone else on the Rays outside of Carlos Pena (who averaged one every 20 plate appearances last season).

I'm hesitant to project a specific WAR total for Manny, considering he's a high-variance case and could produce at a number of levels, but Matt Klaassen took a look at him yesterday on FanGraphs and concluded he could probably produce around three wins as a DH, and he'd be a steal if signed for less than $8M. That's...awesome. Even if you don't like Manny, you have to applaud the Rays on this move: if things don't work out, then they're only down $2M, and the upside for the team is tremendous.

The biggest loser in this signing is likely Desmond Jennings, as he's going to find it tough to break onto the Rays' roster to start the season. There are many different ways Maddon could choose to align the team, but the Rays now have a surplus of outfielders: Damon, Upton, Joyce, Zobrist, and Fuld. Fuld will likely be a defensive back-up, with the other four rotating spots depending upon match-ups and situations.

For fun, here's a taste at how the Rays' line-up could look next season:

Damon LF
Jaso C
Manny DH
Longoria 3B
Joyce RF
Zobrist 2B
Johnson 1B
Briggy SS
Upton CF

This is pretty simplistic, and Maddon will of course be rotating players based on platoon splits and such. My assumption is Joyce, Zobrist, and Rodriguez will be rotating through a 2B / RF platoon situation, with some of them (or Damon) seeing time at first base on occasion. For more on how the Rays could construct the roster, check out this great article by Tommy Rancel.

But still....that's one darn impressive line-up. Oh heart, be still.