Although the balance of power in the NL Central shifted last week with the St. Louis Cardinals losing Albert Pujols, whatever positives the Chicago Cubs took away from that transaction were tempered by Monday's news that the rival Milwaukee Brewers were signing Aramis Ramirez.
All of the euphoria that was taking place in Milwaukee with Pujols' 10-year, $250 million deal with the Angels came crashing down with the news of Ryan Braun's failed drug test that was announced over the weekend. Braun faces a 50-game suspension to start the 2012 season, and now it's obvious to any Brewer fan that the Ramirez contract means that Prince Fielder will not be returning to the Brewers.
The Cubs' answer to these moves offensively was adding David DeJesus, who hit .240 in 2011, and trading for third baseman Ian Stewart, who could only manage a .156 batting average for the Rockies last year. Since it's only December, you can't really say the Cubs are that far behind Milwaukee and St. Louis, however the addition of a big RBI bat like Ramirez to a still solid Milwaukee lineup -- even without Fielder -- was a nice preemptive move by Brewers GM Doug Melvin.
Will the Cubs be in the Fielder contract derby? Cubs team president Theo Epstein is a shrewd poker player when it comes to signing free agents. His signing of Carl Crawford to a blockbuster deal with the Boston Red Sox in 2011 is an indication that you can't look past the Cubs' executive when it comes to Fielder's free agency.
MLB sources tell ESPNChicago.com that the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and surprisingly the Los Angeles Dodgers will be in the hunt for Fielder. Also, don't count out the Washington Nationals, who made the surprise signing of last season, giving Jayson Werth a 7-year, $126 million contract.
Maybe the fanbase may not miss Ramirez all that much in 2012, but the signing of the former Cubs third baseman and free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez tighten the Brewers' hold on the division even if they lose Fielder.