Manny and Johnny: “We’re back!”

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Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon were formally introduced by the Rays today. They had a press conference. It sounds like it was a  laugh riot.  Highlights, taken from this WEEI report and Marc Topkin’s Twitter feed:

  • At the outset Manny smiled and said “we’re back!”
  • Manny did not put on his Rays cap because he said it did not fit over his hair.
  • Manny called Joe Maddon “the coach.”  When asked about the lineup, Manny said he can hit anywhere because he had 5 triples in 1998.
  • Manny said that he was not at all about the money but rather he was out to prove himself now and that’s all the motivation he needed.  I want to believe him — and I am prepared to admit that even Manny has pride — but every single writer who has ever covered they guy is questioning his motivation with a low contract right now. Not just the normal hater-types.  This will be interesting to watch.
  • After being given number 24 by the Rays he said that he didn’t have a problem not being 99 because 99 is his National League number and 24 is his American League number. I’m actually going to suspend my disbelief about this and acknowledge that Manny may very well have thought this up when he was a teenager and that it was always his plan.  To do this, I’ll forget that he wore 99 with the White Sox last year.
  • Damon called Manny “one of greatest hitters of our generation.”  Manny said “thank you Johnny.”
  • Each player was asked about their physical shape. Manny flexed and pointed to his bicep. Damon said that they could either look in mirror and flex or “we can go in shower  and compete there.”
  • Damon said that the Rays are his “Dream Team.”  No word if he admitted that he really didn’t like that octopus up in Detroit last year or if his happiness winning World Series rings in Boston and New York was a big sham.  I’m totally convinced at this point that he could get signed by the Carolina Mudcats and he’d say “I always wanted to play here.”
  • Manny said he had been working out with Evan Longoria and that “I’m trying to help him find his cap.”
  • Joe Maddon said about Johnny and Manny: “I just want them to be themselves.”

They’re way ahead of you Joe.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.