Theo Epstein says Cubs vetted Manny Ramirez and his PED past

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SAN DIEGO — The Cubs are going into this with their eyes wide open, knowing Manny Ramirez failed two drug tests and once seemingly burned all his bridges with the Boston Red Sox.

Who else could give Red Sox Nation two World Series titles and still leave Fenway Park as the villain?

The Manny Being Manny act got so old that Theo Epstein traded Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2008 deadline as part of a three-way deal, getting rid of the clubhouse headache responsible for shoving the traveling secretary and fighting Kevin Youkilis.

The Cubs president of baseball operations believes his new player/coach at Triple-A Iowa has changed, coming clean to Major League Baseball and wanting to give back to the game. It’s part of the risk/reward system with a hitting genius, a no-doubt Hall of Famer if it wasn’t for the PED past.

“You never know in this world, but I think there’s potential high impact here,” Epstein said Sunday on a conference call. “If he can just influence one player, make them a little bit calmer in the box, give them a little bit better mental approach to hitting, teach him 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 in the right way and the positive way, then it was worthwhile.”

[MORE: Cubs shock baseball world, sign Manny Ramirez as player/coach]

Ramirez twice violated the drug policy, though Epstein indicated the 12-time All Star cooperated with MLB officials, a factor that helped convince the Cubs to give him another chance.

“My understanding from afar is that players handle it in different ways. They’re sort of upfront about what’s happened or they can find excuses,” Epstein said. “We’ve obviously vetted the PED issue thoroughly, because it’s an important issue and it was a mistake that he made. All accounts were that he was extremely accountable, extremely cooperative, handled it with a lot of maturity. He was impressive in how he handled the whole thing after the fact and wanted to help.

“The signing was blessed by those people (who dealt with him). You take the time to talk to people who’ve been around Manny the last two years in particular, you find people who describe a mature, accountable person who wants to make up for mistakes in his past.”

If not, the Cubs won’t hesitate to end this experiment.

“Yeah, he’s going to be around some of our better prospects, that’s important, but it’s relatively low-risk as well,” Epstein said. “It’s something that if it doesn’t go well, we can terminate. But I think it will go well, and I think we’re doing this for the right reasons.”

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.