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.”

Yankees trade Sonny Gray to the Reds

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The deal was much talked about all weekend and now the deal is done: The Cincinnati Reds gave acquired starter Sonny Gray and lefty Reiver Sanmartin from the Yankees in exchange for second base prospect Shed Long and a 2019 competitive balance pick.

The key to making the deal happen: Gray agreeing to a a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The Reds will likewise hold a $12 million club option for 2023. The deal had been struck and a window granted through close of business today to get Gray to agree to the extension and, obviously, he has.

The Reds will get a pitcher coming off of a bad season in which he posted a disappointing 4.90 ERA in 23 starts and seven relief appearances. He was hammered particularly hard in Yankee Stadium but pitched better on the road. Great American Ballpark is not a great pitcher’s park itself but any change of scenery would be nice for Gray, who had become much unwanted and unloved in New York. In Cincinnati he has the assurance of a spot in the rotation and, even better for him, he will be reunited with his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, who joined new manager David Bell’s Reds staff earlier this offseason. If he bounces back even a little bit, the Reds will have a useful starter at a below market price for four years. If he doesn’t, well, they haven’t exactly gone bankrupt taking the chance.

The Reds will also get Reiver Sanmartin, 22, who started in the Rangers system before being traded to the Yankees. He’s a soft-tosser who figures to be a reliever if he makes the big leagues. He played at four different levels last season, with one game at Double-A and the rest below that, posting a composite 2.80 ERA in 10 starts and 13 overall appearances while striking out 7.8 batters per nine.

The Yankees will get Shed Long, who is ranked as the Reds’ seventh best prospect. The 23-year old second baseman hit .261/.353/.412 at Double-A in 2018 and has hit very close to that overall line for his entire six-year minor league career. He strikes out a bit and may not stick at second base long term, shifting to a corner outfield slot perhaps, but he’s a legitimate prospect.

The Reds get another starter with some upside. The Yankees get rid of a problem and gain a prospect and a draft pick. Sonny Gray gets some job and financial security at a time when it is not at all clear what his future holds. Not a bad baseball trade.

UPDATE: Welp, the Yankees don’t have a prospect anymore. They just traded long to the Mariners for outfielder Josh Stowers. Stowers was a second-round pick in last year’s draft. He’s 21 and batted .260/.380/.410 with five homers and 20 steals over 58 games in Short-Season ball in 2018. He’s ranked by MLB.com as the Mariners’ No. 10 prospect, but now he’s New York bound.