The Rays clubhouse could have quite a different feel this season, with all the familiar faces that have left.
But now that Tampa Bay is poised to acquire two big names in former All-Stars Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, its players appear ready to welcome them in with open arms.
"I'm excited, it's a huge step in the right direction for us," Evan Longoria wrote in a text message. "I think Johnny and Manny have a lot to contribute to this game and I'm glad that they are going to be doing it in Rays uniforms."
The two veterans have agreed to terms on one-year contracts, with Damon making $5.25 million plus incentives and Ramirez $2 million, according to SI.com. The deals are pending physicals and likely won't be officially announced for a few days. But by the time the news broke Friday night, Rays players already made their reaction known. Shortstop Reid Brignac tweeted, "#damon #manny #rays #wow."
Damon, a 16-year veteran with two World Series rings, could provide leadership while getting at-bats in leftfield and at designated hitter.
Ramirez, who boasts 555 career home runs and is one of the best hitters of his generation, is coming off a few down years. He served a 50-game suspension in 2009 for violating baseball's drug policy and hit just nine homers over 90 games last season while having three stints in the disabled list.
But Ramirez, 38, is reportedly in great shape after working out at Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona and should be motivated on this one-year deal, making him a threat in the Rays lineup.
And MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds said Ramirez's impact could be big on the young Rays hitters.
"Clearly, the suspension has put a dark cloud over his career accomplishments, but as far as work ethic, I don't think there's anybody in baseball who has a better work routine and work ethic than he does," Reynolds said. "He's that good. That's consistent. I've seen it through his years in Cleveland to Boston."
Of course, if Ramirez can get it done at the plate, it could go a long way toward improving a DH position that has been a weak spot for the Rays for several years. Since 2006, Tampa Bay's DH's have been among the worst in the league, ranking 13th in batting average (.238), 12th in on-base percentage (.327) and 12th in homers (104), according to the blog Stats & Info.
Though Ramirez hasn't been a DH over a full season, he has a lot of experience in that role (unlike ex-Rays DH Pat Burrell, who failed to make the adjustment from outfielder in one-plus disappointing seasons).
Last season, Ramirez hit .287 in 24 games as DH, and in his career he has batted .311 with 71 homers, 233 RBIs and a .413 on-base percentage in 1,160 at-bats.
"Manny is going to hit, and that (Tropicana Field) is a great hitter's ballpark," Reynolds said. "He knows how to drive in runs. It's not just home runs; he'll hit a ground ball and put a ball in play. He's not going to strike out 150 times. Automatically, you've got production right there."
Reynolds said the Rays acquiring Ramirez and Damon, 37, is a good move, if they play like they're capable of.
"They're two premier players, and for the money they paid, why not take the gamble?" Reynolds said. "You really don't have anything to lose."
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.