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Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez agree to deals with Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have watched as several big names left their team via free agency this offseason.

But now, they're poised to add two former All-Stars to their lineup in one fell swoop.

Tampa Bay is expected to sign leftfielder Johnny Damon and designated hitter Manny Ramirez to one-year deals, though it likely won't be officially announced for at least a few days.

Damon agreed to terms for $5.25 million plus incentives, while Ramirez's deal is for $2 million, SI.com reported Friday night. Both deals are pending physicals.

The Rays declined to comment. Agent Scott Boras, who represents both veteran free agents, did not return a message.

Damon, 37, reached Friday night while in the Dominican Republic, said he's excited to return to his "home state" and join his former Red Sox teammate, Ramirez. Damon graduated from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando and was a Florida Gators commitment before starting his professional career, and his family lives in Windermere.

"I am very excited to join an organization that has a very good chance to keep winning," Damon wrote in a text message to the St. Petersburg Times. "And I love the opportunity to win in my home state, the team I will root for when my playing days are over. My family and I have been hoping for this for a while."

The Rays had been hoping to add a few bats to their lineup after losing All-Star Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña to free agency, as well as shortstop Jason Bartlett to trade. And in Damon and Ramirez, teammates with the Red Sox from 2002 to 2005, they'll land pretty big names without breaking the bank.

Weak-armed in leftfield and no longer the stolen-base threat he once was, Damon remains durable — he played in 145 games last year. Damon, a left-handed hitter, might be an option at the leadoff spot.

Ramirez — arguably one of the best hitters of this generation — could provide pop in the middle of the order and protection for All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria.

Tampa Bay had shown interest in Damon and Ramirez, along with the likes of Vladimir Guerrero. With Andruw Jones, also a Boras client, recently signing with the Yankees and Jim Thome re-signing with the Twins for $3 million plus incentives, the market appeared to leave some proven veteran hitters at affordable prices.

Damon, a two-time World Series champion, spent four years apiece with the Red Sox and Yankees before playing with the Tigers last season, hitting .271 with eight homers and 51 RBIs.

And Damon can pad his paycheck by making a difference at the gate. He would get $150,000 each for 1.75 million, 1.85 million, 1.95 million, 2.05 million and 2.15 million in home attendance.

Ramirez, a 12-time All-Star with 555 career home runs, has seen his numbers decline over the past few tumultuous seasons.

In 2009, he was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball for failing the league's drug test and finished with 17 homers and 53 RBIs and hit .296. Last year, Ramirez had three stints on the disabled list, splitting the season with the Dodgers and White Sox while batting .311 with eight homers and 40 RBIs (in 90 games).

But when Ramirez is at his best, the enigmatic slugger is a threat in any lineup. And Damon is looking forward to joining forces with him again in Tampa Bay.

"It's going to be great, but also playing with (two) guys you want to start your franchise as a top choice throughout the league, Longoria and (David) Price," Damon said. "And I know Manny's ready."

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez agree to deals with Tampa Bay Rays 01/21/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 22, 2011 12:22am]
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