Tampa Bay Rays fans shouldn’t pin their hopes upon the dual offseason signings of veterans Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez

The addition of the pair of former World Series-winning heroes is merely papering over the cracks of Tampa Bay‘s unconvincing roster.

Early signs out of Rays camp seem encouraging, as the former Boston Red Sox teammates each have shown a willingness to prove themselves coming off subpar seasons.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is confident that both can be positive influences on his young roster.

Maddon appreciates the effect Damon can have inside major league clubhouses. 

“I’ve been watching it from a distance and I know what he’s doing and I can see it. You read about him every place he’s been he’s done it in those clubhouses, so I’m just watching it because I know he’s going to have a great impact,” he explained.

He also commented on Ramirez’s renewed focus: “I love the idea that he feels as though he needs to go out there or wants to go out there and prove something. It’s going to benefit him and us.”

Ramirez missed a significant portion of 2010 and only took part in 90 games in combined duty between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. He was able to hit .290 overall, but his power numbers took a sharp decline as he only managed nine home runs and 42 RBI in more than a half-season of play. 

It remains questionable whether Manny will be able to regain the power stroke that once made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball, but he has come to spring training 12 pounds lighter and is eager to prove himself once again.

Damon’s numbers at the plate also took a dip last season, but his lack of production as a member of the Detroit Tigers could be partially attributed to hitting at Comerica Park.

The spacious ballpark shaved 16 home runs and 31 RBI from Damon’s 2009 totals, but that season was spent at Yankee Stadium, which is very friendly to left-handed hitters.

His 2010 average of .271 makes for a more alarming statistic, but could be boosted by Tropicana Field’s turf known to help grounders get past infielders.

In a “best-case” scenario in 2011, Damon could pick up his power numbers and raise his average closer to his career mark of .287. Meanwhile, a resurgent Ramirez could team with superstar Evan Longoria for an imposing middle-lineup for opposing pitchers to get around. 

Even in that case, Tampa Bay is still lacking what is needed to defend their 2010 AL East Division Title.

The free agent departures of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano will greatly hinder the Rays’ playoff chances in 2011. Soriano and Crawford will especially hurt the Rays after joining their AL East divisional rivals, the New York Yankees and Red Sox, respectively. 

Crawford’s athleticism, raw tools and energetic presence now will be providing a spark for Boston’s lineup while Soriano will form a dynamic one-two punch with closer Mariano Rivera in late games for the Yankees

Pena’s massive power will be missed, as will his Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base after joining the Chicago Cubs.

Losing Crawford and Pena’s production will be difficult even with the additions of Damon and Ramirez.

If rookie Desmond Jennings is given a full-time role in the majors, he could actually match Crawford’s 2010 stole base total of 47, but it is unlikely he could come anywhere near Crawford’s plate-production.

Tampa Bay’s projected starting lineup lacks a solid supporting cast; outside of Longoria, their entire infield is made up of unproven and weak hitters. 

In the outfield, both B.J Upton and Ben Zobrist need to prove that their respective career-years of 2007 and 2009 weren’t a fluke. It would be very unlikely for the Rays to match their 160 home runs that was sixth-best in the AL last season.

Finding a reliable closer will be an even harder task without Soriano who led the American League with 45 saves and posted a sparking 1.73 ERA in 2010.

J.P. Howell—who is recovering from shoulder surgery—could return in May but it remains to be been seen whether he can match his successful stint as the Rays closer in 2009.

If Howell has a setback, do the options of Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta or Andy Sonnanstine sound like capable backup plans? I didn’t think so.

Tampa Bay’s saving grace is their talented rotation. 

David Price is a strong candidate for the 2011 AL Cy Young and is joined by a blossoming group of young starters. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann have proven to be reliable hurlers at the big-league level—though James Shields needs to rediscover his early career form after suffering a miserable 2010.

The highly-touted Jeremy Hellickson has the ability to become a future ace like Price, but Rays fans shouldn’t expect brilliance right away.

His sharp command and excellent Triple-A numbers might suggest otherwise but placing such demands on a young starter wouldn’t be fair. The Rays are taking a patient approach with Hellickson.

Judging by the assembled team for the upcoming season, Tampa Bay’s roster has the look of a club built for the future rather than one that can actually compete for a postseason spot in 2011. 

It wouldn’t be shocking if the Rays fell out of contention by the trade deadline and would be willing to move both Ramirez and Damon to secure more promising talent for the future.


What do your team’s chances, Rays fans? Join in the discussion below or send me a tweet at http://twitter.com/HartyLFC.

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