Chicago Cubs: Aramis Ramirez
The Brewers veteran infielder was in the same position as his ex-teammate Castro, who is expected to sign a seven-year, $59 million contract on Tuesday, when he signed a big contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he was 23.
Ramirez and Castro share the same agent, Paul Kinzer of the Wasserman group. Ramirez credits Kinzer for helping him avoid the frauds and phonies when he signed his first deal.
“I was careful because I come from a different background,” Ramirez said. “Paul told me, ‘We just let your money work for you (with conservative investments),’ and that is what I did. He said, ‘Go out on the field and do your job and I will do mine.’ ”
The former Cubs star is surprised that the team’s new bosses are taking such a long-range approach to getting better on the field.
“I didn’t know they were going to strip it down this far,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t realize they were going to get rid of every single guy. (Theo Epstein) was honest with my agent. (The Cubs) told him that they were going young. That is what happens when you rebuild but I did not know they were going to start from zero.”
Ramirez is having a typically solid year for the Brewers, hitting .291 with 18 homers and 77 RBIs. He leads the National League in extra base hits (63) and doubles (42).
“You really can’t put a time table on when you are going to compete,” Ramirez said. “I don’t know what their game plan is, but they have some good young players and unlike Pittsburgh or Kansas City they will have money to spend when they want to sign or trade for players who are established.”
Ramirez signed a three-year, $36 million deal with Milwaukee last winter after completing his five-year, $75 million deal with the Cubs.
“It’s not easy to live up to other people’s expectations when you are still learning about yourself,” Ramirez said. “I went through the same thing Starlin is going through as a young player in Pittsburgh. This kid has a lot of pressure on him, and he is just learning how to handle it.”
Castro made a mental error in a loss to the San Francisco Giants on Monday when he forgot how many outs there were in the inning and didn’t try to complete a double play. That wasn’t the first mental lapse this season for Castro, who pulled up on a steal attempt Friday because he thought Joe Mather fouled off the ball. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said on Monday those miscues would have to stop or Castro would be benched.
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Ramirez, the new Milwaukee Brewers third baseman, had joked before the game that he planned on bunting against Dempster in his first at-bat.
“It would have been a tough pitch to bunt,” said Dempster, who added that he didn’t know anything about Ramirez factitiously saying he was going to lay one down.
The high-and-tight delivery came on the first pitch Dempster made to Ramirez. So was it some type of message?
“No it just got away,” Dempster said. “I’ve seen too many times if you leave it out over the plate what he does. I was just trying to go inside. Probably in the back of your mind you don’t want to hit him so you end up letting it go a little early.”
Ramirez ended up hitting into an inning-ending double play. It was the only time the two faced each other in the game.
Not only did Dempster claim to not have any hard feelings toward Ramirez, he doesn't think Cubs fans should either when the Brewers visit Wrigley Field during the second series of the season.
"He put up some great years and some great numbers and I’m sure he’ll get a warm reception and things like that," Dempster said. "He’s on the other team now so I don’t really [care.] I want to see him make as many outs as possible."
Dressed in his new navy uniform Saturday, awaiting a visit from his former club, Ramirez said he understood why he wasn’t wanted back after his contract expired and holds no resentment, except maybe for broadcaster Bob Brenly.
“He’s a broadcaster, he should just worry about calling the game,” Ramirez said. “He’s not a coach, he’s not a manager. He should just call the game. The coaches, the manager, the general manager, they should take care of that other stuff.”
What that front office did was decide to part ways with Ramirez. Ian Stewart was brought in to give the Cubs a new third baseman for the first time in 8½ seasons. If the turn of events irked Ramirez, he wasn’t showing it.
“I wasn’t shocked because right after the season my agent talked to Theo [Epstein] when he got hired and he basically told him that they were going to go young, so I wasn’t surprised by the moves that they made,” Ramirez said.
Perhaps the move would have affected him more had he gone to a club that was struggling, but landing with the defending National League Central champs has made his transition easier.
“It’s baseball, but it’s different; different guys, different teammates,” Ramirez said. “They were good out there, they’re good here. The only difference is these guys won 96 games last year. It’s different because they’re ready to win now. Theo has a different plan. He’s going young with different players. Here, they are going in a different direction.”
It probably didn’t matter where Ramirez ended up, he’ll probably have a rough reception when he returns to Wrigley Field. Moving to a division rival only seems to solidify that.
Will he be disappointed if/when Cubs fans boo him?
“No, that’s part of baseball,” he said. “I’ve been booed before when I left Pittsburgh. Every time I still go back, I spent a lot of time there, and every time I go back I still get booed, so I guess if they take it that way. I don’t know how they will take it. I don’t really worry about it, I can’t control that stuff.”
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.
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.
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During their week of discussions the teams have gone back and forth exchanging possible names in return for the 26-year-old Stewart. Originally, Cubs utilityman Blake DeWitt had been discussed. More recently outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu have been brought into the discussions.
The Cubs have also been looking at San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley as the Cubs look to get better defensively at third base with a younger more athletic player at the position. The Cubs are looking to replace free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
Stewart, who had a wrist injury at the end of 2011, had a completely lost season, batting .156 with no home runs and six RBIs in 48 games. He hit 43 home runs between 2009 and 2010. The situation remains fluid and medicals on Stewart's wrist are possibly being checked.
Colvin has been of interest to the Rockies as Colorado scouts feel he is closer to the player who hit 20 home runs in 350 at-bats during the 2010 season as opposed to the one who hit .150 with six homers last season.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez and first baseman Carlos Pena are both considered Type-B free agents in the 2011 free agent class. The signing of a Type-B free agent would bring a sandwich pick for the team losing the player, which comes in the June 2012 amateur draft. Sandwich picks are made between the first and second rounds of the draft.
If the Cubs offer arbitration to either, or both players, the players essentially have a guaranteed contract for 2012. Ramirez made $15 million in 2011, and after posting a .306 average, 26 home runs and 93 RBIs, agent Paul Kinzer could easily ask for, and receive, $17-18 million in the arbitration process. Although Ramirez has already said he won't return to the club, he will have until Dec. 7 to accept arbitration should the Cubs choose to offer it to him.
The situation is the same for Pena, who made $10 million in 2011. Pena led the Cubs with 28 home runs and had 80 RBIs. Defensively Pena was ranked the best defensive first baseman in baseball using a system devised by ESPN Stats & Info. The system showed that he converted 50 errant throws into put-outs. Pena could ask for $12-13 million in arbitration if offered by the Cubs.
Kinzer has had conversations with at least five other teams, including the Milwaukee Brewers, about Ramirez's services. Ramirez is looking for a three- or four-year contract.
Pena's situation is a little different in that his agent, Scott Boras, will more than likely have his superstar first baseman Prince Fielder signed somewhere before he puts Pena on the market. Both Fielder and St. Louis Cardinals free agent Albert Pujols will establish an exceedingly high market for first basemen, with each expected to garner as much as $25 million per year. After both sign Pena may look like a bargain at $13-14 million per year.
Any team is still free to try to sign their free agents if they don't offer them arbitration, however they would not get any compensation should they sign elsewhere.
Left-handed pitcher John Grabow, right-handers Ramon Ortiz and Rodrigo Lopez and outfielder Reed Johnson are the team's other free agents. It's doubtful that any of these player will be offered arbitration.
Kinzer, who is attending this week’s general managers meetings, said he will meet with other clubs this week about Ramirez’s future, but that he does not plan to speak to the Cubs.
“That ship has sailed,” Kinzer said. “We have a lot of interest in Aramis from different teams. But the Cubs will not be one of them.”
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Now that the World Series is over, free agency for major league players begins. Here is a quick look at the Chicago Cubs players who may be moving on and my percentage chance of their return.
2. Carlos Pena, 1B: Pena will be a free agent for the second straight season. The Cubs were satisfied with his season as he delivered 28 home runs and 80 RBIs. Defensively, Pena saved 50 bad throws from Cubs infielders, turning them into outs. He led all of baseball in that category, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He was a $10 million bargain for the Cubs despite his .225 batting average and 161 strikeouts. He set an all-time mark for Cubs first baseman with 101 walks. Epstein and Co. will have to decide if they want to put $200 million toward free agents Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder or bring back Pena. Right now the only other first base option in the organization appears to be Bryan LaHair, who led the minors with 38 home runs in 2011. One thing to keep in mind is that Pena is represented by Scott Boras, who also represents Fielder. Knowing Boras' track record, he will let Pujols set the bar for Fielder. Once Fielder is signed he will dangle Pena. Chance of return: 50 percent
3. Kerry Wood, RP: The 34-year-old inked a one-year, $1.5 million deal prior to the 2011 season. Wood turned down the White Sox’s two-year, $8.5 million offer in order to return to his roots. The right-hander had a so-so season, which was marred by an 18-day stint on the DL due to blisters on his right index finger. Wood’s season ended prematurely on Sept. 19 after he tore the meniscus in his left knee. The Cubs pitcher had arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 29. Money will not be the deciding factor as to whether Wood returns or not in 2012. The franchise icon said in late September that he’d rather retire than pitch elsewhere. It will be up to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer to determine if Wood returns. Chance of return: 80 percent
4. John Grabow, P: The soon-to-be 33-year-old left-handed reliever had two disappointing seasons with the Cubs after being obtained in a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates in July 2009. A severely damaged left knee took away some of Grabow's ability over the past two years. In 2011 he was 3-1 with a 4.76 ERA. He was not used in an important role by manager Mike Quade. The Cubs are well fortified with lefties, including Sean Marshall, James Russell, John Gaub and Scott Maine. Grabow will sign elsewhere. Chance of return: 0 percent
5. Reed Johnson, OF: The Cubs' Energizer Bunny turns 35 in December and was one of the most productive bench players in the National League in 2011. The only downside for Johnson was that he closed the season in an 8-for-50 skid. Johnson still hit .309 and had an OPS of .815, third-highest on the team. He hit .410 with a 1.208 OPS from April 12 through June 15. Defensively, he is still above average at all three outfield positions. A clutch hitter, Johnson hit .324 from the seventh inning on in 2011. The Cubs' new front office should take a hard look at bringing him back to fortify the outfield depth. Chance of return: 65 percent
6. Rodrigo Lopez, P: The 36-year-old pitcher gave the Cubs some solid innings as a starter after Carlos Zambrano walked away from the team on Aug. 12. Lopez could be a solid swingman between the bullpen and rotation if they decide to invite him back in 2012. A decision on Lopez wouldn't come before the winter meetings ended. Chance of return: 10 percent
7. Ramon Ortiz: After a non-descript stint with the Cubs, Ortiz would appear to pitch elsewhere in 2012. Chance of return: 0 percent