Chicago Cubs News

WWJD? (What Would Joe Do?) 2/20/11

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With position players having joined their pitching and catching teammates by now for Spring Training, the focus should begin turning to what the Cubs actually have available on hand for the 2011 season. However, the popular chatter still revolved around a particular superstar currently playing for the arch rival Cardinals. As Jordan mentioned in his last post, team owner Tom Ricketts addressed the team over the weekend, and indirectly addressed the Albert Pujols topic.

Also mentioned by Ricketts was talk of financial flexibility for the coming seasons. While the side story related to this flexibility is sure to continue to fuel the hopes and dreams to see Pujols in Cubbie pinstripes, there is a player currently on the Cubs roster that has flown under the radar a bit in recent days.

Who?

Aramis Ramirez. Many of our faithful readers are well aware that this is a make or break season for Ramirez. He will be looking for a bounce back season both at the plate and defensively at third base. The fate of his tenure with the Cubs beyond the 2011, as well as maximizing his market value if he is let go by Jim Hendry at season’s end, rests on his production this year.

Originally, the Cubs picking up the third baseman’$16 million option for 2012 seemed like a safe bet if Ramirez returned with the good numbers fans and the team have been accustomed to over the last few years. But after Ricketts discussed financial flexibility, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune wonders out loud if the Cubs would pick up the option even if Ramirez puts up the offensive statistics to earn his 2011 salary. Sullivan briefly mentions that declining the option and attempting to resign Aramis at a lower salary is another possibility to consider.

There are a couple other variables that would factor into the club’s decision regarding Ramirez. Josh Vitters is at a bit of a crossroads in his minor league career. Like his Major League counterpart Ramirez, the 2011 season will be a bit of a make or break year for Vitters as well. He will need to continue to make progress towards the offensive potential he was tabbed with when he was drafted, and he will need to prove he can at least play average defense at third base. Vitters should know that the hot corner at Wrigley is more than realistically in his reach for 2012 and beyond considering where things currently stand with Ramirez. But as Luke mentioned recently, another average or sub par season can just as easily see Vitters being passed up on the infield top prospect depth chart come this time next year.

The other variable lies in what the third base market will have to offer next off season. Take a quick peak at the 2012 third base free agent list compiled by MLBTR and you will be disappointed to find that there are no names that really jump at you and excite you as a possible Cubs target. This puts Ramirez in a good spot to be the most sought after third base free agent for 2012 if the Cubs decide to decline the $16 million option.

As a result, assuming Ramirez has a nice bounce back season (and Vitters is still not quite ready to be tabbed as the heir at third base), if I were Jim Hendry, I would pick up the $16 million option. It would buy the Cubs one more season to figure out the next long term candidate for third base for 2013 and beyond. The Cubs may be overpaying for the 2012 season, but considering Ramirez would be one of the best free agents at third, if not the best, they would not save much after paying the buyout and then negotiating a new deal. The market would inflate Ramirez’s value and the next contract would also likely require multiple years.

The option year salary also would have no impact on the dream pursuit of Pujols, as there would be plenty of money coming off the books for 2012 from just Carlos Silva, John Grabow, and Kosuke Fukudome alone.

And while us fans wait for the Spring Training games to kick off beginning next weekend, a little food for thought regarding the future that is 2012 and beyond. What would you do with the club option if you were Jim Hendry?

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