What they’re saying about Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to Tampa Bay

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The Vernon Wells trade wasn’t the only big thing that happened last night.

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez reportedly agreed to one-year contracts with the Rays, pending physicals. According to Jon Heyman of SI.com, Damon will earn a $5.25 million base salary with $750,000 in incentives based on attendance figures while Ramirez will earn $2 million.

Here’s some reaction from around the baseball world, starting with Johnny Damon himself:

Johnny Damon (in a text message to the St. Petersburg Times): “I am very excited to join an organization that has a very good chance to keep winning. And I love the opportunity to win in my home state, the team I will root for when my playing days are over. My family and I have been hoping for this for a while.”

Rob Neyer of ESPN.com: “I think this is simply the product of a management team that’s grown accustomed to relevance, and isn’t willing to just punt a season until absolutely necessary. Remember, this is a franchise that finished ahead of the Red Sox and the Yankees in both 2008 and 2010. And now they’re just supposed to give up? When the Yankees have three legitimate starting pitchers and one of them is A.J. Burnett and nobody other than the Yankees and the Red Sox seem like good bets to win 90 games? Would you give up? I wouldn’t, and the Rays quite obviously haven’t.”

Steve Slowinski of DRaysBay: “I’m still in shock. This feels like something out of a dream. This is probably the Rays’ biggest splash on the free agent market, and they managed to pull in two above-average players for less than Derrek Lee is making with the Orioles. This is the definition of a coup.”

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com: “The fits aren’t perfect. Damon will get most of his at-bats in left field, and at this stage of his career he is more of a DH. Ramirez will act up at some point — or, more likely, several points — though Damon could be a positive influence and the Tampa Bay market is as low-key as it gets.”

Jonah Keri of FanGraphs: “They’ll win more games than they would have before these two moves. And even in perhaps the most fickle market in all of Major League Baseball, they may well draw more fans with Sideshow Manny in town, even after stripping out the effects of a higher win total. The Rays might still be a third-place team in 2011. But they’ll have plenty to YIPYIPYIP about.”

Joe Lemire of SI.com: “Consider at what little cost the Rays made some of these improvements. Garza just agreed to a deal of nearly $6 million with the Cubs, meaning Friedman turned Garza, surplus outfielder Fernando Perez and $1.25 million into Damon, Ramirez and four prospects. Moves like those have helped the Rays shear their payroll from $73 million down to just more than $40 million.”

Tommy Rancel of TheProcessReport.com and ESPN1040.com: “Since the Rays were eyeing both players as a primary DH at one point, one of them will have to play the field more often than not. Look for that player to be Damon. He is a little worse than average, but can still play left field as well as some first base. This means outfield prospect Desmond Jennings is almost certain to start the season in the minor leagues.”

Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald: “Mark your calendars: The Rays visit Fenway on April 11-13, Aug. 16-17 and Sept. 15-18.”

Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.