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manny ramirezIf the announcement wasn’t accompanied by a statement from President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, I would guarantee that we were being punked.

Today, the Chicago Cubs announced that they have signed Manny Ramirez – yes, that Manny Ramirez – be a player and coach at AAA Iowa.

“We are excited to welcome Manny to the Cubs organization and look forward to him working with our young hitters,” Epstein said in a statement. “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.”

Immediately, the Cubs get savvy points for addressing the gigantic PED-related and Manny-Being-Manny-related elephants in the room. Cubs fans may have some lingering beef with Ramirez for his (allegedly) PED-fueled playoff domination with the Dodgers back in 2008 (or had you forgotten?), but I guess it’s going to have to be time to get past that.

So, Ramirez, 41, is headed for the big league roster to help in the outfield soon, right? Nah.

“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,” Epstein’s statement continued. “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.”

There’s the other elephant that needed addressing right away: although he’s a “player”-coach, the heavy emphasis is on coach. Ramirez will not be taking at bats away from prospects in this process.

All in all, I’m going to need a lot of time to digest this move, though I don’t want to overstate it. This is a new coach coming into the organization, which is rarely a bad thing. He comes with a checkered past, but he also comes with an absurdly good resume, one that probably ingratiates him well with young players. I seem to recall stories of him helping out Mike Olt last year in the Rangers’ system, so maybe this will be a really positive transition for Ramirez. Whatever assistance he did or didn’t receive, the guy always understood how to hit. Maybe he can share some of that with the Cubs’ big-time positional prospects, each of whom would spend some time with Ramirez at AAA.

For Ramirez’s part, it sounds like he’s ready to be the kind of mentor the Cubs could really use.

“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 so much to me and done so much for me and my family,” Ramirez said in a statement. “I know I am nearing 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 I made, and helping the team any way I can.”

I suppose I thought that Sammy Sosa would be the first big-time PED-era slugger to be welcomed into the organization in a coaching/mentoring role with open arms, but I guess it will be Ramirez. He’s got a good relationship with this front office, obviously, and I really look forward to seeing how this plays out. He’s certainly got a lot of baseball, hitting, and life experience to share with Cubs players as they move through the system. This front office wouldn’t bring in someone like Manny Ramirez unless they thought he was really ready to offer something of value, and wouldn’t just be a circus piece.

Again: this is pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s also kind of exciting. Ramirez will head to Extended Spring Training to get some at bats before heading to Iowa.

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