And then there were two


And then there were two

By Rich Levine

And then there were two.

"Two what?" you don't ask.

Well, first of all, two Idiots back in the A.L. East.

Thats right, in cased you missed it: Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, Bostons former Unfrozen Caveman Centerfielder and Hard-Hitting Hobo Astronaut, have taken whats left of their talents to Tampa.

Damon signed for one-year5.25 million and will play left field. Manny signed for one-year2 million and will serve as designated hitterspiritual advisor. And just like that, two of the most important and polarizing characters in Red Sox history are back in the mix. Theyll presumably face Boston 19 times this season, nine times at Fenway, and, believe it or not, play a somewhat significant role in the Sox season.

And frankly, I cant wait.

One reason is nostalgia.

Can you imagine Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon patrolling the Fenway outfield in Tampa Bay Ray jerseys?

How bizarre it would be to watch, say, Tampa Manny toss a ball into the stands with only two outs in the inning, or Tampa Damon make a shoe-string grab in center, while his left fielder pees inside the Green Monster?

And OK, even if they dont play much outfield together, how about seeing them run the bases together, or do a stupid handshake together, or make fun of Joe Maddons glasses together? Whatever it is, considering the two franchises, the two players, the history and whats still at stake, the fact that Damon and Manny are doing anything with the Rays is cause for at least a little excitement.

And over the course of a long 162-game season, that kind of stuff is great. Whats better than another reason to get up for a random Tuesday night game in July?

But nostalgias not the only reason to be excited about these guys signing with Tampa.

The other is this:

The offseason is almost over, and these two guys are pretty much the only players who have signed with Tampa.

Since the end of last season, the Rays have lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett. Theyve lost Rafael Soriano (closer), Dan Wheeler (set up man) and Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit (two fancy-named but quality middle relievers). Rico Brogna and Rolando Arrojo arent playing anymore, but if they were, I swear the Rays would have found a way to let them go.

And for the Sox, thats a pretty big deal, because make no mistake, the Rays had become a very serious and worthy rival.

Over the last three seasons, the Rays have won two A.L. East titles, which is as many as the Sox have won in the last 15 years. Over the last three seasons, the Rays have won 277 games, the Red Sox have one 279 games. They met once in the playoffs, and the Rays came out on top. Only one of the two has made the World Series, and it wasnt Boston.

Since the moment the Sox last won the title theyve been in a constant and legitimate three-way battle for the division crown, and over that time theyve struggled with it. With a system like they have in baseball, where you have only two chances to make the playoffs, the addition of an extra perennial contender makes a huge difference. The Sox learned this the hard way.

But not as hard as its about to be for the Rays.

Theyve lost all that talent, and still, all they have to show for it are a quickly aging Johnny Damon and the ghost of the shadow of Manny Ramirez. Oh, and Kyle Farnsworth.

And in the A.L. East, in 2011, that wont cut it.

So basically, it comes down to this: While the signings of Damon and Ramirez may have laid the foundation for a new chapter of the Red SoxRays rivalry, you might as well take that same block of cement and carve out the D.O.D for Tampas run among the A.L.s elite.

Are they still a solid team? Sure. Theyve got David Price, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton and Ben Zobrist. And if Damon can stay healthy and Manny can stay focused (long shot hes playing in front of empty seats every night), then the Rays will still be competitive. But when you look at what they lost, and how theyve filled those holes, and how the Yankees and especially the Sox have improved over that same time. Its obvious that the Rays are no longer in that league. By no fault of their own, they just couldnt keep up. Now theyre more Blue Jays than BoSox.

And the timing couldnt be better for Boston.

Not only have the Red Sox re-emerged as the best team money can buy, but theyve also lost one of their two biggest competitors.

Its like if McDonalds unveiled McCrack, their most delicious and addicting burger of all time, and then a week later Wendys went vegetarian. They became the best and half of the rest disappeared.

And while the signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were more the nails in the coffin than the main reason for the collapse, we can say that despite all the story lines and drama this new Rays team may bring theres now one less contender in the AL East race.

Tampa's toast . . .

And then there were two.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Red Sox exec Amiel Sawdaye follows Hazen to Arizona


Red Sox exec Amiel Sawdaye follows Hazen to Arizona

The Red Sox lost another key member of their front office Monday, when vice-president of amateur and international scouting Amiel Sawdaye followed former general manager Mike Hazen to Arizona.

Sawdaye will be the Diamondbacks' assistant GM. As stated by Rotoworld, he had been instrumental in building up the Red Sox' young big league talent and farm system.

The Boston Globe reported today that the Red Sox may not fill the GM vacancy created when Hazen left, instead using "other staffers to take on Hazen’s administrative duties". President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski handles many of the duties traditionally associated with the general manager's position, leaving the actual GM's job in Boston as "essentially an assistant [position] with a lofty title but little power".

The Red Sox have also lost two other front-office members this offseason: Senior baseball analyst Tom Tippett, who had been with the organization for eight years, and director of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek, who had been with the Sox for five years.

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.