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.”

Brandon Morrow injured his back taking off his pants

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The Cubs’ bullpen got into trouble in the ninth inning on Tuesday afternoon during the first game of a doubleheader. Justin Wilson started the inning with the Cubs leading 3-2, normally a situation for closer Brandon Morrow. Wilson issued a leadoff walk to Austin Barnes, then gave up a single to Justin Turner. Morrow wasn’t warming up, curiously. Wilson ended up giving up a go-ahead two-run double to pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer and the Cubs went on to lose 4-3.

We now know why Morrow wasn’t available. He says his back tightened up taking off his pants early Monday morning, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports. Morrow said, “It’s frustrating any time you can’t get out there, especially when you can’t go for something as stupid as taking your pants off.”

Morrow, 33, has been terrific in the closer’s role this season for the Cubs. He owns a 1.59 ERA with a 25/9 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings. He is also not available for the back end of Tuesday’s doubleheader, but it sounds like he won’t need to go on the disabled list.