Generally speaking, adding a career .312/.411/.585 hitter to mentor a farm system full of young and talented hitters is a good thing. Especially when the front office knows that hitter. And especially when the front office has won championships with that hitter in the middle of their line-up. It really sounds like a home run, so to speak.
Manny Ramirez, however, carries a different set of baggage. Baggage that includes a catch phrase (“Manny Being Manny”), 2 PED suspensions, and a domestic violence charge (that was later dropped because his wife would not cooperate). In a lot of ways, pairing Ramirez with this crop of young hitters seems like it could turn out to be a match made in Hell.
Here’s the catch: In spite of all of the bad things that have come with Ramirez and even though Theo Epstein is the guy who traded Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers in 2008; nobody has a bad thing to say about him. People rave about his work ethic, marvel at how great he is at teaching, and applaud the way he’s turned himself around.
Last season, Ramirez spent some time with the Rangers. In a piece by Ken Rosenthal from March, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels had nothing but good things to say about the guy. Said Daniels:
“I do think he’s at a point where he truly is playing for the love of the game. He went to (Triple-A) Round Rock – no issues. We had an organizational policy on hair – no issues. He was one of the first guys there each day. He helped some of the younger guys in the cage. The coaching staff spoke really highly of him.”
The comments from Daniels align themselves nicely with how he was perceived in the A’s organization:
@PeteAbe He was great with A's young hitters the spring he was with them. Could be excellent hitting coach if really wants to be.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) May 25, 2014
If those things weren’t enough, Theo didn’t have to venture very far to find a hitter Manny actually worked with: Mike Olt. Olt may have given the most glowing recommendation of all, having worked with Ramirez last season when both were in the Rangers organization. Said Olt:
“He saw that I was late and dropping my hands. We went to the cages and I worked with him.”
“He’s Manny Ramirez. He’s one of the all-time home runs guys. He’s been on big teams in big situations. He makes it look so easy.”
“He’s been one of the guys. He didn’t have to do that with me.”
If two strong organizations can bring in Ramirez, put him with their young hitters, and give him solid reviews, and have one of their own players speak so highly of him, it is worth the risk for the Cubs, who released a statement from Ramirez and Epstein, essentially saying he is going to Iowa to coach and occasionally play.
In the long run, this could open the door to a long-term coaching job with the Cubs organization. If Ramirez works out as a coach, and his playing career is truly over, there are not too many other hitters in recent memory who would be more cut out to be roaming hitting instructors in the minor leagues or being on a major league hitting coaching staff. With the volume of young players in the Cubs’ organization, Manny Ramirez is literally a player they grew up watching…and they watched him have a ton of success. It’s going to be hard for young power hitters like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler to shrug off a guy with 555 career home runs.
The upside to this move is enormous. Manny Ramirez has a reputation for a lot of things. That bad ones are all known. Within baseball circles, however, he is also known as “religious” in his film study and a great teammate. He also offers perspective as a player who successfully transitioned to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. And as a player who has been around for a long time. One who has been to the top of his profession as one of the best hitters of an era. Who has won championships. And who has fallen from the pinnacle of success to being a punchline for fans… Ramirez has a lot to offer the young players around the Cubs system.
The first he should come into contact with: Jorge Soler, who is in Arizona rehabbing his latest hamstring injury while Ramirez works his way into shape.
In every way imaginable, this will be something to watch, because Manny Ramirez is nothing if not entertaining.