Report: Rays & Johnny Damon Closing In On Deal

UPDATE: Blue Jays Set To Acquire Napoli

Apparently those talks between the Rays and Angels about Mike Napoli did not get as far as the talks between the Blue Jays and the Angels. According to FoxSports, Toronto has acquired Napoli pending a physical. It would not be the first (Edwin Encarnacion), second (Octavio Dotel, or third (Jon Rauch) time the Jays have swooped in on a Rays target this offseason.

In an interview with Jonah Keri, author of the upcoming book the Extra 2% about the Tampa Bay Rays, Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos had nothing but praise for the Rays’ front office.

They are absolutely one of the best-run franchises in baseball, arguably the best-run franchise. It hasn’t been a fluke or a flash in the pan. Scouting, player development, they plan well, they were built well, they have an identity. I think it all speaks for itself.

Imitation is the finest form of flattery, but Anthopoulos could stop taking our players now.

Meanwhile, the Rays and Johnny Damon are not saying much, but a deal still looks likely.

UPDATE: Rays Still in on Manny Ramirez; Talking To Angels About Mike Napoli & Waiting On Johnny Damon

As we wait on more news regarding Johnny Damon, the Rays are looking in all different directions to upgrade the 2011 offense. On top of the Damon reports below, several outlets are reporting that even with Damon in the mix, the Rays are continuing to aggressively pursue Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez, 37, is no stranger to the Bay Area having spent seven-plus years with the Boston Red Sox. The Rays have had their eye on Ramirez for a while now and even put a waiver claim on him last August. Although he dealt with injuries, and appeared in just 90 games last year, he hit .298/.409/.460 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His .869 OPS would have ranked second on the Rays last year behind Evan Longoria (.879). His power is not what it once was, but his ability to get on-base is fantastic and he still has the potential to belt 20-25 home runs.

While we’ve heard the Manny rumors before, Sporting News reports the Rays and Angels are discussing a trade involving 1B/DH/C Mike Napoli. The 29-year-old right-handed batter is similar to Kelly Shoppach in some ways. Both are considered below-average defenders in the field, but have a lot of power; especially against left-handed pitching. While both dine on southpaws (Napoli .931 OPS, Shoppach .949 OPS), Napoli is a far superior hitter against right-handed pitchers (Napoli .795 OPS vs. righties, Shoppach .679).

Also unlike Shoppach, Napoli has experience at first base and DH where he could platoon with Dan Johnson in addition to John Jaso behind the plate. If the Rays do acquire Napoli, Shoppach would likely be on his way out as Napoli is scheduled to make between $5-6 million through arbitration.

At this point, we have a lot of names and a lot of scenarios so itt is premature to figure out who plays where and how. On the other hand, it seems the Rays are determined to upgrade their offense by any means first, and figure out who goes where later. Any combination of Damon, Ramirez, and Napoli would be a tremendous boost to a lineup that already features a stud in Evan Longoria and other productive hitters like B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, and more.

FRIDAY:

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Tampa Bay Rays and free agent Johnny Damon are close to a deal; however, there are still some things to work out before things are finalized. In recent weeks, rumors of Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez have dominated the Rays’ search for a hitter, but Damon is a name we’ve discussed before.

Although he does not represent the traditional option for designated hitter, he is still a good offensive player and represents an upgrade over last year’s production. We spoke about Damon as a possibility here on Dec. 29.

Although he does not fit the physical profile, Johnny Damon could be the guy who fills the Rays’ vacancy. Despite his lack of home run power, Damon remains a productive offensive player even at the age of 37.

After a career power year in 2009 (largely influenced by the New Yankee Stadium) which included 24 home runs, Damon hit just eight home runs in 613 plate appearances with the Detroit Tigers last season. That said, he hit 36 doubles, five triples, and scored 80 runs.

In 2010, the collective Tampa Bay DH’s posted a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .238/.322/.391 with 50 extra-base hits. On his own, Damon hit .271/. 355/.401 with 49 extra-base hits. His batting average of .271 was below his .287 career average, but his .355 OBP was an exact replica of his career number. This is because he posted an above-average walk rate of 11.3% (league average is 8.5%). Damon only stole 11 bases last season, but is still a smart base runner and was among the better players at taking the extra base.

He may not be the prototype, or the answer to replacing the lost power of Carlos Pena, but the Rays are simply looking to upgrade the DH spot. With his on-base ability, gap power, as well as his familiarity and past success in the American League East, Johnny Damon could be that upgrade. As is the case with every free agent target, cost is key; however, Damon has expressed interest in playing for Tampa Bay in the past and may be willing to sacrifice some dollars for playing close to home.

A lot of the Rays success has been based on unconventional methods. Perhaps signing Johnny Damon as the primary DH will be the latest example.

Without knowing the terms of a deal, there is still a chance the Rays could bring in Damon and add a Ramirez-type. On his conference call a few weeks ago, Andrew Friedman expressed desire to bring in “1 or 2 bats.”

We’ll continue to monitor the situation here and keep your radio/online stream tuned to ESPN1040 for updates throughout the day.
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