- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
If Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez are happy, then by golly, I'm happy too. I mean, it's all about happiness, isn't it? In case you missed it, Damon and Ramirez have been reunited as members of the Tampa Bay Rays, and if Tuesday's corny, all-smiles press conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., was any indication, all is well. From a fantasy baseball sense, however, I think all is well really for just one of them.
Heading into the 2010 season, Damon and Ramirez were considered productive players. Granted, they were in decline and on the wrong side of age 35, but they still had mixed-league value. Then Damon disappointed in his lone Detroit Tigers campaign, and Ramirez didn't even seem interested in suiting up for the Los Angeles Dodgers. While Damon is the one getting the larger one-year contract ($5.25 million plus attendance incentives versus a mere $2 million for Ramirez), I don't have much faith he can improve on last season's numbers. Ramirez, however, can still rake, at least when he's motivated. I think Damon's problem is more related to his declining skill set.
Damon still has value. He draws walks and steals the occasional base when he knows he can make it (23 for 24 the past two seasons), and maybe he can muster enough power to reach double-digit home runs. Also, he should score runs hitting first or second in a strong lineup. Defensively, the Rays will soon find he's a liability, but those statistics -- not merely his name value -- should warrant attention in 10-team standard leagues. He's just more of a fifth outfielder type now. Consider that Damon's 2010 statistics earned him the No. 58 spot on ESPN's Player Rater among outfielders. Are you thinking about drafting Cody Ross, Franklin Gutierrez, Jonny Gomes or Will Venable? They finished better on our Player Rater in 2010, and while I'd take Damon over all of them in 2011, it's not like any of them are must-owns in a shallow format.
With Ramirez, call me even crazier than him, but I don't feel the same way. Sure, Damon ranked better on the Player Rater, but only because Ramirez played roughly half a season. As a Dodger, Ramirez was doing well, hitting .311 with enough power to matter. If he had played 130-plus games, a 20-homer, 90-RBI, .300-season was likely pending. Nothing wrong with that. Damon barely breaking into double-digit stolen bases wouldn't make him more valuable. What Ramirez did as a member of the Chicago White Sox could be regarded as the end of the line, I suppose; he managed just two extra-base hits and two RBIs in 24 games. Yep, that stinks, but it also seems aberrant to me. Ramirez can still hit. He just doesn't always feel like doing so.
Maybe I'm a bit too trusting, but I'd think playing for the Rays -- the defending AL East champions, just as a reminder -- and in the same division with a few teams Ramirez knows awfully well can get his juices (and bat) flowing. Plus, he doesn't even need to bring his glove to Tampa; he'll be a designated hitter. And he's going to be the league's top DH, just you watch. Ramirez can still crush right-handed pitching. He walked 15 times against four strikeouts against lefties in 2010, so I have little doubt his eyes and plate discipline remain intact. He knows the deal. The fact he's making so much less money than Damon is irrelevant for statistical purposes. His bat, over hopefully 130 games, still matters.
"I'm here, like I said, because I love the game, I love to compete. It doesn't matter how much money you make," Ramirez told reporters. "If you love the game, it doesn't matter. What you want is a chance to prove to people that you still can do it. So for me, it was not about the money, I could have gone someplace else."
Words are fleeting, and Damon, 18 months younger, was preaching the same type of unselfishness and commitment to winning, but I don't see how Damon can still hit for enough power or steal enough bases to make a real dent in a mixed league. Manny, on the other hand, is still Manny. I'm making room for him in my top 35 outfielders, ahead of Vernon Wells, Carlos Quentin, Nick Markakis and Jason Bay, among others.
Here are a few other bullet points about the Rays offense:
• If Desmond Jennings (aka the next Carl Crawford, according to some), hits in spring training, he'll win the right field job. If he doesn't, then he's headed to Triple-A Durham. Not to be negative, but I think the Rays want him in the minors regardless, and for this reason he does not rank among my top 60 outfielders.
• If Jennings forces his way onto the team, that's bad for Dan Johnson. I kind of like the first baseman's power and on-base potential; he hit 30 home runs in 98 games at Durham last season. He always has been adept at drawing walks. But the Damon-Ramirez additions could also force Ben Zobrist to first base. They're not going to sit emerging youngster Sean Rodriguez. Point is, Johnson was a better sleeper before the Damon/Ramirez signings.
• Rodriguez will hit at least 18 home runs and steal double-digit bases. Big sleeper here. And I like new shortstop Reid Brignac for at least 12 home runs as well.
• Assuming neither Damon nor Ramirez play more than 140 games -- let's be honest, here -- I think it's worth spending a buck or two in AL-only auctions on Matt Joyce. Frankly, the former Detroit Tigers prospect could have a 20-homer season in him if he earned 400 at-bats. Perhaps he never really emerges, and assumes more of an Eric Hinske-type role, but there's upside here if Jennings goes down and Zobrist plays first base, leaving Joyce in a right field platoon.
Eric Karabell takes a closer look at the Tampa Bay Rays' signing of veterans Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, calling one a mixed-league sleeper and the other a player to ignore.