Since last we saw Manny Ramirez on a major league field -- five games with the Rays in 2011 -- he has played professionally in Sacramento, Dominican Republic, Taiwan and Round Rock, Texas. On Sunday, the Cubs announced his baseball afterlife will continue in Iowa. Chicago signed the dreadlocked 41-year-old, who has 555 career home runs to his credit, to serve as a player-coach with their Des Moines-based Triple-A affiliate.
The Cubs’ front office leadership, particularly president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, is familiar with Ramirez from the seven and a half seasons they spent together in Boston. On Sunday, Epstein made clear the club signed him for his potential to help its offense not of today, but of the future. Said Epstein:
"While Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs' Major League roster, we do think at this stage of his life he's a nice fit as a mentor for some of the young, talented hitters we have in the organization. Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects. If he shows there is still some magic in his bat, perhaps he will find his way to the Major Leagues and help another team, but that is not why he is here. We are thrilled that he wants to work with our young hitters and make a difference."
The Cubs’ farm system features at least three of baseball’s best power-hitting prospects in shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielder Jorge Soler. Baez, 21, has already reached Triple-A and will have a new mentor in short order, as the plan is for Ramirez to get some at-bats in extended spring training in Arizona before heading to the Midwest. Bryant, who has 13 home runs with Double-A Tennessee, and the currently-injured Soler could soon be in Iowa too.
If Ramirez has always been entertaining, he hasn’t always behaved in the manner of a role model. He was twice suspended for PED use, in 2009 and 2011. In 2011 he was arrested on a charge of domestic battery, and he has a history of periodic altercations with teammates and club employees (“Manny Being Manny” once involved pushing a 64-year-old traveling secretary to the ground). Even so, said Epstein, “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." If Ramirez, who will turn 42 Friday, returns to the majors, he would be the third oldest player in the league, behind Jason Giambi and Raul Ibanez. For now, though, he says he is on board with the Cubs’ plan for him. "The Cubs have some very talented young hitters, and I would love nothing more than to make a positive impact on their careers," Ramirez said. "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 I made, and helping the team any way I can."