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Ripples from adding Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon will reach many Tampa Bay Rays lockers

For Evan Longoria, it means protection, which means production.

For Ben Zobrist, it means that it might be time to invest in a first baseman's mitt.

For David Price, it means wins. For the rest of the starting pitchers, too.

We can all hear them coming. Their footsteps are getting louder, and the ground is shaking more as they approach. Who cares when pitchers and catchers report? Let me know when Manny and Johnny report.

They are older now, and it is fair to wonder what is left of either Manny Ramirez or Johnny Damon. Except for this: The Rays are certainly a more interesting team, and the season is a more intriguing notion, with them aboard.

In some ways, it is as if the Rays have shipped two truckloads of gunpowder to Tropicana Field. Either there are going to be some dandy fireworks, or the whole joint is going to blow sky-high. Maybe both.

In the meantime, the impact of these two is going to affect the lineup, the clubhouse and the perceptions.

For Desmond Jennings, it means patience … and probably starting the season in Triple-A Durham.

For Matt Joyce, the goal of becoming an everyday player may have just gotten a little harder.

For Andrew Friedman, it means versatility. He has to learn how to say, "That's just Manny being Manny," 871 different ways. For full effect, at least six should be said with a straight face.

No, this does not mean all wounds are healed. For the Rays, it has mostly been an offseason of subtraction. No one would accept Ramirez and Damon in a trade for Carl Crawford, Carlos Peña, Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit. Well, not unless it was 2004 again.

For the first time since the season ended, however, the Rays have a positive buzz. Once again, they're worth watching. Once again, they are worth discussing.

You know what the additions of Damon and Ramirez mean? They mean insurance. The Rays are such a young team that it is entirely possible that someone — Joyce? Reid Brignac? Sean Rodriguez? Dan Johnson? — will have an off season. If so, they can use their versatility to take up the slack. Without Damon and Ramirez, that would be harder.

Take Jennings. If he isn't quite ready for the bigs, the Rays can be patient.

So how does this shake out? With Damon in left (most days) and B.J. Upton in center, it means rightfield is still crowded. Yes, Zobrist might play more first base this year, but executive vice president Friedman has always said that Zobrist's biggest strength is his versatility. It's easy to see Zobrist continuing to play some in right (with Joyce) and some in a middle-infield rotation with Rodriguez and Brignac. He might play some at first base, but don't expect him to become a full-timer there.

As for the batting order? Well, you'll get all possibilities before the season is over. Manager Joe Maddon might give you 163 lineups in 162 games, providing he can get a rainout.

How about this for a starting lineup on opening night (against a right-handed pitcher)? For sake of discussion, Rodriguez doesn't start until Game 2:

1. John Jaso, C

2. Johnny Damon, LF

3. Evan Longoria, 3B

4. Manny Ramirez, DH

5. Ben Zobrist, 2B

6. Matt Joyce, RF

7. B.J. Upton, CF

8. Dan Johnson, 1B

9. Reid Brignac, SS

Can that order win? We'll see. But they're still going to have a very good rotation, and they still play good defense. Damon will be a good clubhouse guy. And, no, Manny won't hit .196 (as Peña did). Frankly, this time may be better than you think.

For Jaso, it means leading off remains a possibility. I know, I know. Damon has led off a lot in his career. But last year he only started five games in the leadoff hole. He hit second 86 times.

For Johnson, it means more at-bats, because the Rays aren't likely to bring in another big thumper at first base.

For Jose Canseco, it means he can write another book about the original Hit Show. I think he has naming rights.

That's the criticism of this move, of course, that the Rays have made the same mistake all over again. Ramirez seemed to lose a lot of his power last year. Damon was more of a DH than a leftfielder. So it's easy to compare this to the year when the Rays brought in Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla to join Canseco and Fred McGriff, a move that defines the bad years for this team.

Here's the difference, however. With that team, the Rays tied up millions, and when it failed, it took years to recover. With Ramirez and Damon, the Rays can walk away at any point they decide it isn't working out. This time, they're on the right side of risk/reward.

For owner Stuart Sternberg, it means a bit of validity. After all, if he was trying to strip this team for parts, as some have suggested, why spend this $7 million?

For Damon, it means another year and another team. The healthier he is, the better.

For Ramirez, it means another chance at another big payday. The more interested he is, the more interesting the season will be.

Yeah, this is going to be fascinating.

Who knows? If it works out, it could even be fun.

Ripples from adding Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon will reach many Tampa Bay Rays lockers 01/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 7:07am]

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