Theo: Manny Ramirez has ‘high-impact’ potential, despite drug violations
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter May 25, 2014 10:20PM
MANNY BY THE NUMBERS
4 World Series appearances: 1995 Indians, 1997 Indians, 2004 Red Sox, 2007 Red Sox
2 World Series titles: 2004 Red Sox (MVP), 2007 Red Sox
1 AL batting title (.349, 2002 Red Sox)
12 All-Star Game appearances (3 victories)
555 Career home runs
(No. 14 overall)
Updated: May 27, 2014 11:34PM
SAN DIEGO — Maybe it will help guys such as Javy Baez become 12-time All-Stars and World Series heroes.
Or maybe a few years from now, “Javy being Javy” will become the Cubs’ new head-shaking catchphrase.
What’s certain is that the Cubs’ hiring of former Red Sox lightning-rod slugger Manny Ramirez to mentor Cubs prospects as a player-coach at Class AAA Iowa just became the most intriguing storyline of the season for the last-place Cubs.
“You never know in this world,” team president Theo Epstein said Sunday. “But I think there’s potential high impact here.
“If he can influence one player, make him a little bit calmer in the box, give him a little bit better mental approach to hitting, teach him something about how to approach the right-handed breaking ball the right way — if he can convince one player not to do [performance-enhancing drugs], if he can just influence one player in a positive way, then it was worthwhile.”
And if some of the old, quirky, selfish Manny from his mercurial playing days surfaces?
“Yeah, he’s going to be around some of our better prospects. That’s important,” Epstein said. “But there’s relatively low risk involved. It’s something that if it doesn’t go well, we can terminate. But I think it will go well.”
Epstein was the Red Sox’ general manager during the best of Ramirez on the field and the worst of him off the field. Epstein eventually was compelled to trade Ramirez to the Dodgers in 2008 because of long-term friction with the club and behavior problems well known within the industry, including shoving the club’s 64-year-old traveling secretary to the floor the month before he was traded.
Within a year, Ramirez was caught violating baseball’s drug policy, the first of two positive tests and suspensions in a three-year span.
Epstein, who began “kicking the tires” on Ramirez as a possible spring-training instructor last winter, said he became convinced of a transformation in Ramirez through a long and thorough process that involved interviews with Ramirez and people around him in recent years, from minor-league teammates to high-level executives.
Bill Mueller, the Cubs’ hitting coach and a former Red Sox teammate of Ramirez, said a change could be seen by those close to Ramirez even in his most controversial days in Boston.
Cubs third baseman Mike Olt said he had an “awesome experience” with Ramirez on his Class AAA Round Rock team last year in the Texas Rangers’ system. Olt said Ramirez connected with younger players and helped with their mental approach.
What never was questioned, Epstein said, was Ramirez’s exceptional understanding of hitting and his ability to communicate it to other players.
“This is not a PR move at all,” Epstein said. “This is purely a baseball move. Specifically, a player-development move.”
Ramirez, 41, initially balked at signing with the Cubs as an instructor because he wants to continue his playing career, Epstein said. If another club wants to add him to its big-league roster this season, the Cubs will release him from the deal.
But Epstein said Ramirez won’t play at the expense of Cubs prospects. He’ll get perhaps one or two starts a week, and there is no scenario in which he’d join the Cubs’ big-league roster.
“In part because we don’t want this to become a sideshow,” said Epstein, who added the team was up front with Ramirez about that from the beginning.
He could join the Iowa roster — with such highly regarded prospects as Baez and Arismendy Alcantara — within a week, after a few days working out at the Cubs’ training facility in Mesa, Arizona.
“We have a lot of young, talented right-handed hitting power hitters in our system,” Epstein said. “For us to be successful, we need those guys to develop to reach their maximum potential. And having someone with his knowledge and his influence and his resume and his gift for teaching hitting around those players can only help.
“I do believe in second chances. I do believe in redemption. I do believe that Manny has turned his life around for the better in the last couple of years.”