Rumors in recent weeks have suggested that Manny Ramirez has been working for one final shot at a chance for playing time in the Major Leagues and while that opportunity hasn’t presented itself, he has been given a chance to rejoin a Major League organization. Ramirez reached an agreement to join the Chicago Cubs as a player/coach with the organization’s Triple-A affiliate in Iowa.
The Cubs announced the agreement Sunday via a press release, with quotes from both GM Theo Epstein and Ramirez himself.
“We are excited to welcome Manny to the Cubs organization and look forward to him working with our young hitters,” Epstein said. “Manny is not only one of the best hitters of all time, he is also a dedicated student of hitting and has proven to be a gifted teacher with younger teammates who have worked with him in the batting cage. Behind the scenes he has always been a tireless worker who is very serious about the craft of hitting. Manny has made real mistakes in the past, but he has owned up to them and moved his life in a positive direction the last couple of years. He is in a really great place right now and wants to share the lessons he’s learned along the way. We think he deserves another chance and that our young hitters will benefit from it.”
Epstein continued to note that Ramirez “is not and will not” be on the Cubs’ Major League roster. The plan is to have him focus full time on the coaching role, while only playing part time as to not take away at bats from the younger players being developed. Ramirez will reportedly spend some time at the team’s spring training facilities in Mesa, Arizona in order to get some at bats under his belt before joining Iowa. Epstein did, however, leave the door slightly open for a return to the Major Leagues if there ends up being some “magic left” in Ramirez’ bat.
To Ramirez’s credit, he sounds as though he’s approaching this with the right mentality:
I’m at the stage of my life and career where I really want to give something back to the game that I love – the game that has meant to much to me and done so much for me and my family. I know I am near the end of my playing days, but I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation – both what to do and what not to do. The Cubs have some very talented young hitters and I would love nothing more than to make a positive impact on their careers. I am passionate about baseball and about hitting, and I have a lot to offer. While I would love to return to the Major Leagues, I leave that in God’s hands. My focus will be on working with the young hitters, making sure they don’t make the same mistakes that I made, and helping the team any way I can.
The events of his past are, of course, well known. Twice he was suspended by Major League Baseball for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy late in his career, effectively ending his tenure as one of the game’s most productive right-handed hitters earlier than it should have. Over a 19 year career the now 41 year old Ramirez batted .312/.411/.585 while mashing 555 home runs. The winner of nine Silver Slugger Awards, there’s few doubts about this ability to hit. He was often aloof in the field and on the bases, but while those behaviors rubbed teammates and managers the wrong way it all eventually became a part of “Manny being Manny”.
Ramirez last played in the Major Leagues during the 2011 season, when he appeared in five games for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2012 he spent the first half of the season at Triple-A with the Oakland Athletics before receiving his release. Last season he began the year in Taiwan and would join the Texas Rangers Triple-A affiliate in early July, but would be released just a month later.
While Ramirez certainly has his flaws, he has been known for his work ethic behind the scenes. Epstein would know that well, having spent seven years with Ramirez while with the Boston Red Sox. Chicago’s minor league system is loaded with potentially talented prospects – with Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara already at Triple-A and Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and others working their way there.