The Chicago Cubs want Manny Ramirez to mentor their minor leaguers at the very end of a colorful career that includes two World Series titles and a pair of suspensions for positive drug tests.
Ramirez signed a minor league deal with the Cubs on Sunday and will be a player-coach at Triple-A Iowa after he gets some at-bats in extended spring training at the team's facility in Mesa, Arizona.
The 41-year-old Ramirez is a .312 hitter with 555 home runs in 2,302 games covering 19 major league seasons. Seven of those were in Boston, where Cubs executive Theo Epstein was the general manager of two Red Sox clubs that won it all with Ramirez playing a key role and earning a World Series MVP award.
"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 said in a statement. "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."
Ramirez most recently played in the big leagues in 2011, with Tampa Bay. The 12-time All-Star had a minor league with Texas before the Rangers released him last August.
"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," he said in a release. "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."
Ramirez was suspended for 50 games in 2009 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers after testing positive for a banned drug. He retired in April 2011 instead of serving a 100-game ban for a second positive test while with Tampa Bay, but later agreed to a reduced 50-game suspension and played in the minors for Oakland in 2012.
The teaching role for Ramirez is a bit of a gamble for Epstein, who is depending on Chicago's rich farm system to turn around the floundering franchise. The Cubs lost 197 games over the previous two seasons, and began Sunday in last place in the NL Central with an 18-29 record.
"The reality is he is a great, great hitter who can provide valuable insight and knowledge," Chicago manager Rick Renteria said before the game at San Diego.
Chicago's top hitting prospects at Iowa include infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, a first-round pick in 2011 who is off to a slow start after he was a late cut by the Cubs following a solid spring training. Third baseman Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall selection in last year's draft, is one of the top hitters in the Double-A Southern League and could make it to Iowa by the end of the season.
"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."
Ramirez was selected 13th overall by the Cleveland Indians in the 1991 amateur draft and rose quickly through the minor leagues, with a youthful exuberance and natural charisma that endeared him to just about everyone he met. He signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in December 2000, helping the franchise win an elusive World Series championship a few years later, then doing it again in 2007.
Ramirez led the American League with a .349 batting average in 2002, finished second the next year, and had an AL-best 43 home runs in 2004. But there was another side to Manny — his lackadaisical play, particularly on defense and the basepaths, rubbed some managers and teammates the wrong way.
"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 in a release. "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."