Theo: Demise of Rays 'greatly exaggerated'

BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein gave a diplomatic answer when asked about Tampa Bay's acquisition of former Red Sox outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.

"Good moves,'' he said. "Those guys probably can still hit a little bit, to say the least. It'll probably make for some interesting head-to-head matchups.''

But Epstein was emphatic in asserting that even before Tampa Bay signed the two aging stars, he still regarded the Rays as a formidable rival, despite all of their roster losses, including new Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, pitcher Matt Garza, and most of their bullpen, including closer Rafael Soriano.

"I think the demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated,'' he said. "Even before those moves we never erased them at all from our radar. I think they’re uniquely positioned to lose some really good players and keep their status as one of the best teams in baseball, given the strength of their farm system and the players they have ready to step in. They lose Garza, they have [Jeremy] Hellickson to step in. They lose Crawford they have [Desmond] Jennings and [Matt] Joyce to step in. They're going to be real tough.''