File this under "stories you never thought you would read in 2014". The Chicago Cubs announced that they have signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract that will allow him to serve as a player-coach at Triple-A Iowa and serve as a mentor to young hitters coming up through the system.
Cubs' President of Baseball Operations, who spent seven seasons as Ramirez's general manager with the Red Sox, issued a statement that clarified the slugger's unique role with a rebuilding Cubs' ballclub:
"We are excited to welcome Manny to the Cubs organization and look forward to him working with our young hitters," Epstein said. "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."
"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."
While no one would expect Ramirez to become a contributor on the Cubs' major league roster this season, it is interesting that Epstein came out and explicitly stated that there was zero chance of him helping the ballclub. At this point, it seems that Ramirez has given up his dreams of making a comeback to the big leagues and is slowly shifting to a mindset that will allow him to pursue a coaching career in the future.
Ramirez, who turns 42 on Friday, last appeared in the majors with the Rays in 2011, going 1-for-17 in five games before retiring after a second failed performance-enhancing drug test. He has seen time with the Athletics' and Rangers' Triple-A affiliates in the last two seasons, most recently hitting .259 with 3 HR and 13 RBI in 30 games for Triple-A Round Rock last season.
In nineteen major league seasons with the Indians (1993-2000), Red Sox (2001-2008), Dodgers (2008-2010), White Sox (2010) and Rays (2011), Ramirez is the owner of a lifetime .312 average with 555 HR and 1,831 RBI. He was an All-Star on twelve occasions and was the World Series MVP in 2004.