Johnny Damon has made seven career appearances at first base, none since 2008, none as a starter. The Rays have not indicated he will play any position but left field. But let’s play the what-if game.
What if the Rays grew comfortable with Damon at first, creating room for one more offensive piece? And what if that offensive piece was free-agent designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero?
The Rays’ current first-base options are Dan Johnson and Casey Kotchman. But imagine a lineup that had Damon at first, Manny Ramirez in left field and Guerrero at DH.
Interesting, to say the least.
The Rays, mind you, have given no indication that they are considering such a plan. Guerrero seems more likely to sign with the Orioles, or maybe the Angels or Blue Jays. But stranger things have happened.
The Tampa Bay front office is progressive, routinely considering every available big name. Few expected the team to sign Damon and Ramirez. But the Rays, playing in the AL East, understand the need to take occasional risks.
Using both Damon and Ramirez in the field would be a considerable risk, a 180-degree departure from the team’s previous defense-first philosophy.
Kotchman, though, could replace Damon in the late innings. Sam Fuld, another outstanding defender, could substitute for Ramirez. If there is any manager who could make such an arrangement work, it’s the ever-creative Joe Maddon.
The Rays have other needs — another reliever, a backup infielder. But Guerrero would make a bigger impact than any other player they could acquire.
If the Rays could land Guerrero for, say, $5 million, they would have three potential Hall of Famers — Damon, Ramirez and Guerrero — for the shockingly low price of $12.25 million combined.
Granted, Ramirez might throw a fit if the Rays paid Guerrero more than twice his new $2 million salary. But they already cut such a deal with Damon, didn’t they?
The Orioles appear a cleaner fit for Guerrero — they play on natural grass, not artificial turf, and would require less defensive shuffling to accommodate him. The Rays, though, offer a greater chance to win.
Damon at first? Ramirez in left? Maybe those are just two square pegs in round holes. But if the goal is to outscore the opponent, the Rays might want to explore the idea. If they haven’t already.
— Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi