By Chris Emma-
(CBS) — On a fall day in 2011, the Cubs unveiled their new direction. There were no mixed words — this is Theo Epstein’s baseball team, and his job is to win a World Series.
The Cubs are fully behind Epstein and his baseball brass to build a winner on Chicago’s North Side. The organization has taken its lumps en route to a brighter future. Still, the man with the plan must be trusted.
Every move made by Epstein and his impressive, detailed baseball operations department is made with one purpose: bringing the Cubs closer to a championship, their first in more than a century.
Such is the case with Sunday’s stunning addition of Manny Ramirez as a player-coach with Triple-A Iowa. It’s a shrewd move with great potential benefit and little risk.
There’s a reason Epstein picked Triple-A and Iowa, as opposed to a lower level of the farm system. It’s where the pressure to succeed is at its highest, where top prospects Javier Baez and, soon, Kris Bryant, will be under the microscope. It’s the last leg of the minors, where major league promise is recognized or weeded out.
Ramirez creates a distraction from the club’s most important names, alleviating them of much pressure from a fan base desperate for success.
More importantly, Ramirez is a teacher with whom his students can relate. Epstein saw it first-hand while in Boston. He sees value in bringing Ramirez in with the franchise’s future talents.
“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,” said Epstein in a statement. “Behind the scenes he has always been a tireless worker who is very serious about the craft of hitting.”
“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.”
The name Manny Ramirez comes with more bad than good. His steroid usage, subsequent retirement and infamous antics overshadow 555 home runs and 12 All-Star Game appearances. Baseball fans either love or hate Ramirez.
It’s a similar tainted legacy to that of Sammy Sosa, the disgraced Cubs legend that’s been largely ignored by the organization. How could the Cubs welcome in one cheater while ignoring one of their own?
None of that matters to Epstein. The Sosa soap opera is an issue for Tom Ricketts. Epstein’s only task is building a winner at Wrigley Field, and he feels Ramirez can contribute to this goal.
It was well worth the leap of faith to put the past aside for the opportunity to benefit the future.
“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, Epstein said. “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.”
Sure, these are just words in a carefully crafted statement, released on a Sunday morning of a holiday weekend to bury in a dull news cycle. But it’s something Epstein believes will work.
Should Ramirez break this trust, he’ll be launched back out of baseball and into forced retirement. This is his last chance to be around the game he loves.
If Ramirez’s presence leads Baez, Bryant and any other prospect to greater success in Iowa, then Epstein’s bold decision will have paid great dividends.
It’s the tall task of Epstein to lead the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908, and each move — no matter if it’s minor or monumental — comes with intended benefit to the grand plan.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmmaScout.