The Cubs signed Manny Ramirez as a player/coach at Triple-A Iowa to the sound of many snickers and much cynicism. So far, it appears to have been a rousing success. Ramirez has enjoyed the opportunity, and many of the Cubs' hitting prospects have been sponges when talking with him, soaking up knowledge. The Cubs should get about extending the relationship rather soon. My preference would be for using him as a hitting coach in the Dominican Republic, but if Ramirez prefers a different arrangement, that should be considered as well.
The rest of this is reasons that signing him as a hitting coach for the Dominican Cubs squad would be a great idea.
1. To scrap the "Lovable Losers" tag
To stop people from considering the Cubs as sad sacks of the league, they ought to make decisions that distance themselves from the "we don't win, but at least we're totally inoffensive" mindset. The idea of sending Neil Ramirez to the minors was a step in the right direction. Thinking outside of the box, to see how far you can go before you infuriate someone, is often a wise option. The players' union may have not appreciated the purported action, and the team quickly back-tracked.
The team then put in waiver claims on Jacob Turner and Cole Hamels, as if to block other teams from being able to trade for them. This is a completely valid action, in both instances. But to some, it looks like them sampling on the evil-doers hat. "How dare you prevent me with negotiating from everybody?" Both moves were lauded by pretty much everyone, but Miami and Philadelphia front offices are probably pretty steamed.
Adding Ramirez to an extension in 2015 and beyond is not something that is for the weak-of-heart. He has made mistakes. He is controversial. However, he seems to have helped a few players already. Even if somebody doesn't like it, bring him along next season. He's been better than advertised so far.
2. Bill Buckner
In 2012 and 2013, the former Cubs first baseman was the hitting coach in Boise. In both of those seasons, the Hawks were the best-hitting team in the league. Part of that was due to a very deep and impressive roster in 2012. Part of that was due to Kris Bryant in 2013. Some of that was likely due to Buckner helping the players with the needed adjustments required for being a professional hitter. Without Buckner, this season's Hawks team has seemed a bit more hit-or-miss than the past two.
Being a hitting coach is not about celebrity. Any coach has to fill out reports, consult with higher-ups, and help his charges improve. It hasn't been proven that Ramirez can do the first two well, but he's been doing a bang-up job on the third requirement.
Yes, I'm perfectly willing to add Ramirez to the 40-man roster and have some pinch-hitting opportunities in September of 2014. If people are of the mind to pay to see celebrity pinch hitters, welcome to Wrigley. Giving him eight or twelve pinch hit swings won't hurt the guys that would otherwise have gotten the swings. If Matt Szczur, for instance, should get some time, it should be as a starter or a late inning defensive sub, not a pinch hitter. I think a 40-man spot can be created, especially since the black-hat wearing front office types are enamored with shutting pitchers down.
4. Junior Lake
The one moderately intriguing hitter who has missed Ramirez' tutelage this season is Junior Lake. I'm opposed to sending Lake to Iowa for three weeks to burn an option. However, I'm completely good with him getting some one-on-one instruction from one of the better hitting minds in the last few decades. In Wrigley, not in Des Moines. Lake appears lost at the plate, and talking with Ramirez about hitting might help him in the future, though I'm not holding out a whole lot of hope. However, he still has options remaining, and if he can learn something from Ramirez, he might at least become valid trade bait.
Lake has one option remaining. That can be burned this year, getting him three weeks to "fix him." Or, he can be optioned for next season, retaining his services for an extra twelve months. Sending him to Iowa now pretty much eliminates any trade value he might ever have. I doubt he will increase it much over the next 18 months, but toughing it out for three more weeks seems the better idea. Especially if paired with getting him some time with Ramirez in September.
5. To make Topps happy
While the argument could be made that the "Attendance" category was to make Al happy, this one is about me being selfish. I have a collection of Cubs-certified autographs from recent baseball card sets. (I think they will soon be providing DNA samples to get fans "closer to the game.") If Ramirez takes a swing for the Cubs in September, he will likely have a card in 2015. The provider would then probably provide some Cert Autos in at least one of their sets next season, and a Ramirez Cert in Cubs gear would be welcomed into the collection.
6. Hire the best available, whenever possible
I don't care what the category is. Whether it's scout, slugging outfielder, starting pitcher with something to prove, pitching coach, or number-runner for Tom Tango's crew, if someone rather good is available for a reasonable rate, sign him.
This is as good as anyplace to respond to the prime objection. "He's a cheater. The league suspended him. Shouldn't the Cubs avoid trouble makers?" As the saying goes: Trust, but verify. I expect the brass did some due diligence on Ramirez, but it might be prudent to hire a spy if he's running the hitting training in the Dominican. I don't want anyone being an unethical hypocrite. If he isn't playing by the rules, then, either let him go, or put him in a different scenario. However, until there is a reason to think he won't help hitters, I'm bullish on keeping him around. Somewhere.
One of the worst-guarded secrets surrounding the Cubs is that they plan to get rather possessive with regards to the July 2 class internationally next time around. Adding Ramirez to the equation dumps a rather potent accelerant on the experiment. Imagine, if you will, a scout chatting with a 15-year-old slugger contemplating which team to sign with: "You can sign with the Giants, who are trying to avoid going over their limit for talent. Or you can sign with us for a bit more. And your hitting coach in our elite training facility will be Manny Ramirez."
"Where do I sign?"
In 2016, the Cubs figure to be in international free-agent purgatory. Again. The IFA chips seem to have as little trade appeal as packaging peanuts. The Cubs have brought in precious few hitters for the 2014-15 period so far. If, in a future situation, before the draft kicks in, would having the Ramirez factor help in getting more signings?
It couldn't hurt.
9. Sammy Sosa
The former Cubs slugger sounded a bit upset that the Cubs didn't reach out to him for some of the celebrations this year. The Cubs don't need ribbon-cutters. They need people who will help move the needle and make the organization better. Hiring Ramirez would be a direct salvo to Sosa, among other things. I'm not opposed at all to Sosa getting a role in the organization. I'm not sure if he can scout. I'm not sure if he can coach. If he wishes to be an asset in either area, then he ought to get about learning the basics.
Sort of like Ramirez has done this season.
10. If the Cubs don't, someone else will.
I'm not sure if Ramirez has what it takes to be a real coach. His results so far seem to indicate there is a possibility. If the Cubs pass on it, which would be a very Cubs thing to do, someone will gobble up the chance. My guess would be San Diego, who has a new general manager with a Rangers background and a commitment to upgrading their international outputs. Or maybe the Red Sox or Cardinals would want in. The Yankees are spending a bundle overseas this season. They might want a great hitting mind to help their youngsters.
Yeah, I think you have to deny others the opportunity by doing what's necessary to make him happy.