The 2011 Rays opened the season with their designated hitter position filled by a Hall of Very Good platoon: Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. I don’t need to remind you how many people around here and elsewhere thought the combined pickup was a great idea, and one reason that they came to the Rays so cheap — just $7.25 million combined, just $2 million of which went to Manny — was that their mutual agent Scott Boras negotiated a package deal. Once Manny retired, Johnny Damon picked up nearly all of the slack, winding up with 150 games played — his 16th straight season with at least 140 games played.
But after hearing that the Rays weren’t bringing him back, Damon is right where Manny is: at the back of the breadline. Manny is currently unemployed because he has announced his desire to unretire, as Matt Klaassen wrote Monday. One reason Manny says for his desire to return is that, as he told ESPN, he wants to be a role model:
I want to show people that Manny can change, that he can do the right thing.
Manny will still have to serve a 50-game suspension, and his one-for-17 performance in 2011 won’t inspire much confidence either, so he may have a difficult time convincing another team to take a chance on him. (Much like Barry Bonds in 2008.)
It’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting with Ramirez. He was quite good in an abbreviated season in 2010, but multiple stints on the DL limited him to just 90 games, and due to his PED suspension, he only played 104 games in 2009. So he hasn’t played a full season in four years. But no one’s expecting him to be a full-season player: obviously, he was signed to be a part-time DH last year, and the Rays still wound up regretting that deal. He can probably still hit, but with Manny, as always, the only thing we know is that nobody knows anything.
Damon took it personally that the Rays went with Luke Scott over him, as the Tampa Bay Times wrote. “It’s an unhappy day,” he said. Then he took a shot at the team’s famously low attendance, and suggested that the team might have brought it on itself.
You wonder why fans can’t get involved with players… because they are here and gone.
Damon will probably get a job somewhere, not least because a bad team might decide that his chase of 3000 hits — he’s at 2723 — could inspire a good marketing campaign. But he’s a below-average defender and only a league-average hitter for a corner outfielder. No one would voluntarily choose to keep him as a starting player.
Damon will certainly command a higher salary in 2012 than Manny will: since time immemorial, because most baseball teams are conservative in nature, executives pay a premium for certainty. You know what you’re getting with Damon, who has been one of the more durable players in the majors over the last decade and a half, even though what you’re getting isn’t stellar. No one has any idea what they’re getting with Manny.
Of course, there is almost certainly a price at which Manny would still be worthwhile, somewhere between the minor league minimum and his salary in 2011 of $2 million. Likewise, Damon’s platonic ideal salary will be somewhere north of Manny’s and somewhere south of his 2011 salary, $5.25 million.
Where will it be? Well, on the back of the envelope, Damon’s 2011 salary was $2.75 million less than his 2010 salary, and his 2010 salary was $5 million less than his 2009 salary. If that trend were to continue, that would suggest that his 2012 salary would be somewhere around $4 million — which is right in line with the one-win performance that it may be fair to expect from him next year.
Last year, the Rays spent $7.25 million in the offseason on two former Idiots whom they thought would fill their designated hitter needs for a full year. They got a declining Johnny Damon and a week’s worth of Manny-being-Manny. According to all the information we had then, they made a great decision to sign the two of them, but they got disappointed in the performance they received for their money. This season, the two are looking for work once more.
They don’t share a lot in common — just their fates.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.