January 21, 2011

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez are returning to the AL East.

The Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to terms with both former All-Stars. Damon agreed to a one-year deal worth $5.25 million plus incentives tied to attendance, and Ramirez one year at $2 million. Both deals are pending physicals.

The moves mark the first major additions for the Rays after a devastating offseason in which one prominent player after another left cost-cutting Tampa Bay.

Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano signed elsewhere as free agents. Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett were traded. A strong bullpen was depleted by the losses of Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls.

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Ramirez and Damon played together for four years in Boston and helped lead the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series title -- ending the team's 86-year championship drought. Both colorful characters are well past their primes, but if nothing else they could at least provide an attraction at Tropicana Field for a Rays team that drew just 1.86 million fans last year.

The 38-year-old Ramirez began last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, then was claimed on waivers late in the summer by the Chicago White Sox. He hit a combined .298 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in the final season of a $45 million, two-year contract he signed with the Dodgers.

Hampered by injuries, the longtime slugger had 320 plate appearances in 90 games. Still a power threat, he likely will be a designated hitter for the Rays.

Ramirez's career took a downward turn in May 2009 when he was suspended 50 games for using a banned female fertility drug.

The 12-time All-Star has 555 home runs, good for 14th on the career list, and 1,830 RBIs, which ranks 18th. He also helped Boston win the 2007 World Series, then was traded to the Dodgers the following season.

The 37-year-old Damon spent last season with the Detroit Tigers, batting .271 with eight homers and 51 RBIs, mostly as a DH. Weak-armed in left field and no longer the stolen base threat he once was, Damon remains very durable -- he played 145 games last year and hit 36 doubles in 539 at-bats.

Damon, who is from nearby Orlando, can pad his paycheck by making a difference at the gate. He would get $150,000 each for 1.75 million, 1.85 million, 1.95 million, 2.05 million and 2.15 million in home attendance.

A two-time All-Star, Damon spent four years with the New York Yankees and helped them win the 2009 World Series. They let him leave as a free agent and he signed an $8 million, one-year deal with Detroit.

Ramirez is a Type A free agent and Damon a Type B, but since neither player was offered arbitration, no compensatory draft picks are involved.

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