The affect of Milwaukee Brewers’ left fielder Ryan Braun testing positive on a drug test and now facing a 50 game suspension will be great for the Brewers and the rest of the teams in the National League Central division. The Brewers were already faced with the realization that free agent first baseman Prince Fielder is not walking back into the Brewers’ clubhouse anytime soon, and this realization came before the organization had any knowledge of Braun testing positive for a prohibited substance.
With Fielder no longer in the lineup, and the possibility of Braun being lost for nearly the first third of the season, the Brewers had to find a way to install some power production back into their lineup. While Fielder’s asking price was too steep for the Brewers’ to enter Fielder frenzy–which still appears to include to the Cubs–the Brew Crew turned to a familiar face.
After suggesting during the latter months of the season that he was in the midst of playing his final games as a member of the Cubs’ organization, third baseman Aramis Ramirez confirmed what we all expected. Which was that the veteran third baseman, who really made a name for himself while playing for the Cubs, will not be returning to play his home games at Wrigley Field in 2012. Ramirez will still see Wrigley Field a handful of times, however, as the third baseman agreed to a three year, $36 million contract with the Brewers on Monday. The contract also includes a mutual option for a fourth year. With the Ramirez officially signing with a different team, the Cubs will receive a sandwich pick–somewhere between the first and second round–for next season’s amateur draft.
To be honest, I do not like the contract from the Brewers’ perspective. Not because I may be biased because of my affiliation with the Cubs nor because of my growing dislike for Aramis Ramirez over the past couple of seasons, but because of the reasoning why the Brewers made the signing. Prior to the news of Braun facing a possible 50 game suspension, the Brewers did have interest in Ramirez but not to the extent where they were labeled as the front-runners to sign the veteran third baseman. That honor had been bestowed upon the Los Angeles Angels, though their recent signing of a particular first baseman may have taken them out of the Ramirez sweepstakes. It was not until after the news about Braun’s failed drug test did the Brewers’ interest in Ramirez evolve.
The belief circulating in Milwaukee is that Ramirez can be “the guy” offensively in the absence of Fielder, who is going to sign with a new team, and Braun, who in all likelihood will be serving a 50 game suspension. The problem with that kind of rationale is that Ramirez has proved during his time with the Cubs that he can not be “the guy” offensively. Let me revise that last sentence, Ramirez can not be “the guy” offensively while a team is seemingly in contention for a post-season spot. Need I remind Brewer fans that Ramirez is one of the main reasons why the Cubs have not won a post-season game since 2003. Now this critique of Ramirez may be displaced, as Ramirez is a notorious slow-starter and it is not until June or July when Ramirez finally becomes relevant again. Don’t get me wrong, Ramirez will be a great bat to have in the lineup once Braun returns, but alone, the third baseman does not make the Brewers better in light of Braun’s suspension.
As for the Cubs, the attention at third base will now be turned to Ian Stewart. There seems to be no gray area on the stance that Cubs’ fans have on Stewart, some fans love the acquisition, and others question the acquisition. Personally, and I am not sure if I am in the majority or minority, I am a Stewart supporter. There is no question that Stewart is the better fielder than Ramirez, but he is not the same caliber of power hitter that Ramirez is. Having said that, at 26, Stewart still has a high ceiling and could be that left-handed run producer that the Cubs have been missing for a long time. Time will tell on whether Stewart was the right decision to be the Cubs’ new third baseman, but with Ramirez now in Milwaukee, the focus for Cubs’ fans will be on how Stewart holds up in comparison to Ramirez.