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Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon Return To The A.L. East With Rays

The relationship between Red Sox fans and former favorites Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon seemed like it had undergone a bit of healing last year. Damon had finally taken the Yankee pinstripes off as he left for Detroit, and was even claimed off waivers at one point by the Red Sox (Damon would rebuff the Sox, but more for an apparent love of Detroit than anything out). Meanwhile, time had healed some wounds with Manny who received a mixture of cheers and boos as he returned to Fenway for the first time with the Dodgers.

Consider that healing undone, and their status as Enemies of the Nation back in full force. Both are now Tampa Bay Rays, part of an incredibly cheap $8 million package deal from Scott Boras.

From a purely objective standpoint, though, what a coup for Tampa Bay. At least with Manny. As much as it seems like he's become a shell of a player, there's just not a lot of merit to that. His power numbers were certainly down last year, but the guy had an OBP over .400. There's not a team in the major leagues that can't use a bat like that.

But what does this mean for the A.L. East? It's getting to be a four team race, kind of. The Jays are much improved, certainly, though I still think they're going to have to wait for some of their trades to pay off in young talent to really hit it big. The Yankees are, of course, ever-present, and now here come the Rays. Manny instantly becomes one of the best batters on the team, replacing the offensive contributions of Carl Crawford, and Johnny Damon is a big improvement over the withered remains of Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell. For God's sake, Willy Aybar was their designated hitter for a good stretch.

The big question is how well the defense steps up. If Damon is playing significant time in left field, that's going to be a very noticeable dropoff from Carl Crawford. He's certainly not been well-tested enough at first to be reliable. But realistically, the change in the field just isn't going to compare to the difference between Burrell/Pena/Aybar and Ramirez/Damon.

There is the question of who will replace Crawford, how their constantly-changing rotation will pan out, and whether or not any of this will actually put some butts in the seats (my money is on "no", sadly). But the Rays have pulled themselves back from that purgatory of "almost contending", and are once again part of the conversation, at the very least for the Wild Card.

Of course, all this just makes that Los Angeles deal look even worse...