With a couple days digestion time, I feel pretty positively about the move to hire/sign Manny Ramirez as a player-coach at AAA Iowa. There’s risk, to be sure – Ramirez has been busted for using PEDs, and was something of a headache in his later years in Boston – but the upside is considerable. For all of Ramirez’s struggles, he was always a guy that clearly “got” hitting. When he was at the plate, he looked like his heart rate was about 45 beats per minute. That kind of calm understanding of the approach, the strike zone, the pitches, and the pitcher doesn’t come around very often. It might be difficult to translate in the coaching world, but he was so very elite in that regard that it’s got to be worth trying.
And, let’s be clear: it’s not like Ramirez is going to be turned loose to mold the Cubs’ prized positional prospects into whatever he wants with no input whatsoever from the rest of the organization. Ramirez is but one additional voice in the development chain. He’s got a lot of hitting – and life – experience to share, and he’s also got a huge name. That matters. When he speaks, the young men coming up the ladder will listen. (And, if the Cubs are able to keep him in the organization long-term, Ramirez is probably a pretty great recruiting tool in Latin America, a la my frequent argument about bringing Sammy Sosa back into the fold.)
It’s fair to be wary about all the bad stuff in Ramirez’s past, and it’s also fair to make a few Manny-being-Manny jokes. But the Cubs’ front office is deep in both intelligence … and experience with Ramirez. If these guys think it’s a smart move to bring in Ramirez, and to place him in a critical role, given the trajectory of the Cubs’ top prospects coming along? Then I say groovy.
As for some other interesting follow-ups, quotes, reactions, etc. to the big move …
- Together with the initial hiring/signing announcement, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein offered a pretty compelling litany of reasons why the hiring makes sense, but there were obviously going to be some follow-up questions. You can read more of his thoughts here, via Carrie Muskat. One particularly salient quote: “He’s extremely accountable. Right now, he’s extremely honest, and he has a lot offer in part because of what he went through. You never know in this world. But I think there’s a potential high impact here. If can can influence one player, make them a little bit calmer in the box, give them a little better approach to hitting, teach them something about how to approach the right-handed breaking ball the right way, if he can convince one player not to do PEDs, if he can influence one player the right way and in a positive way, then it was worthwhile.”
- Epstein also noted in comments to the media that the move wasn’t for “PR,” was all about player development. Well, yeah, given that any person for whom this would be effective on a PR level would actually view it as negative PR. Adding a guy like Ramirez is a PR risk, not a PR win. And they wouldn’t have done it if there wasn’t real upside to the organization.
- Patrick Mooney chatted with Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller about the hiring, and got some great quotes. Among them: “I think he always wanted to reveal a different picture so people underestimated him and he could have that advantage at some point in the ballgame. But he always did his homework. He was always there way ahead of us. He was always studying pitchers and I always knew he had a game plan for who he was going to be facing in the later innings. He would always come in and that video would be [ready]. He never wanted people to really know that.” It would have been hard to be as successful as Ramirez was without being a hard-worker and student of the game.
- Bruce Miles, when initially writing about the hiring, discussed the implications for the Cubs and Sammy Sosa. There’s not an explicit overlap here, but, given Ramirez’s past, you can see why folks would make the connection. I think it’s pretty reasonable, and, frankly, I already thought it was time to get something done with Sosa.
- Ken Rosenthal spoke to Ramirez in the offseason, and the former slugger was pretty candid in his acknowledging his past transgressions. We’ll see if he’s truly a changed man, but there are some encouraging words in there from Jon Daniels, the GM who last gave Ramirez a job at AAA Round Rock in the Rangers’ organization.
- It sounds like Javier Baez is pretty excited, and he says Ramirez is his favorite player. (Des Moines Register)
- Ryan Kalish, who is headed to AAA Iowa to get some regular playing time, is also pretty excited to have Ramirez around. (Tribune)
- Of current Cubs and Cubs prospect, Mike Olt may have the best view to the Ramirez addition, having played with him last year at Round Rock. He spoke well of the hiring (Tribune), and you can read this ESPN piece from last year about how Ramirez helped Olt with his swing.