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.”

MLBPA thinks all 30 teams will take a “file-and-trial” approach to arbitration

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There’s something interesting deep in Ken Rosenthal’s latest notes column. It’s about arbitration, with Rosenthal reporting that the players union believes that all 30 teams will take a “file-and-trial” approach to arbitration this winter.

If you’re unfamiliar with this, it breaks down thusly:

  • In mid-January, teams and players who are eligible for arbitration will exchange proposed salary figures. The player says what he thinks he’s worth based on comparable players of his quality and service time and the team will propose a lower counter-figure;
  • Generally, the parties then use these proposals as negotiable figures and eventually reach a compromise deal, usually near the midpoint between the two figures, avoiding arbitration;
  • If a deal cannot be reached, they go to an arbitration hearing and arbitrators pick one of the numbers. They CANNOT give a compromise award. It’s either the higher player’s number or the lower team number.

In the past, a handful of teams — most typically the Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Rays, and White Sox — employed a “file- and-trial” approach, meaning that they treated the figure exchange date as a hard deadline after which they refused to negotiate and stood content to go to a hearing. As more teams have adopted this approach, there have been more arbitration hearings. As Rosenthal notes, last year there were more hearings than in any offseason for the past 25 years. Now, the union thinks, every team will do this. If they do, obviously, there will be even more hearings.

There is certainly an advantage to file-and-trial for a team. It makes the player and the agent work harder and earlier in order to be prepared to negotiate with the club before the file deadline. It also makes them work a lot harder to come up with a defensible filing number given that, rather than merely being an opening salvo in an extended negotiation, it’s something that they will certainly have to defend in open court. It’s also simple hardball. Teams have greater resources than the players and the agents and it’s less painful for them to pay for lawyers and hearing prep and to conduct the actual hearing. There’s risk to the team, of course — they might lose and pay more than a settlement would’ve cost — but teams are obviously concluding that the risk is worth it.

The only question I have is, if the union is right and all 30 teams will now proceed this way, how was that decided? Everyone suddenly, after several decades of arbitration, simply decided to take the same approach? Or was there, I dunno, a meeting in which the strategy was coordinated? Inquiring minds want to know!