Already in Spring Training there have been rumblings about what the Chicago Cubs plan to do in the off-season of 2012. Obviously, all of the focus is on Albert Pujols and whether or not the Cubs enter the bidding if he becomes a free agent. If the Cubs do enter the bidding for Pujols, they would be one of the few teams that can afford the “mega-deal” that Pujols is looking for. With the contracts of Kosuke Fukudome, John Grabow, and Carlos Silva coming off of the books the Cubs will have a lot of financial flexibility. The Cubs could potentially have more flexibility for the winter if they decide opt out of the $16MM contract option that Aramis Ramirez has for the 2012 season. Some feel it is a foregone conclusion that Ramirez will not be back next season, but I’m here to tell all of you that Aramis Ramirez is not going anywhere.
When Ramirez reported to camp on Saturday, he told reporters that he was 100% healthy, and added about 6 to 8 pounds of muscle in the off-season. That should be the first clue that Ramirez is in line for a bounce back season. Through the past two seasons Ramirez has been dealing with a number of injuries. It was not until the second half of last season that Ramirez was completely healthy. Ramirez proved that he was healthy by hitting .287/.333/.556 with 20 home runs in his final 300 plate appearances.
If Ramirez does return to form this season, some fans have suggested that the Cubs would look to trade him at the trade deadline. No matter how you look at it, there is no way the Cubs could rationalize trading Ramirez. For one, there is a good chance that the Cubs will be contention at the trade deadline. Meaning the Cubs would not be in the position to trade away a middle of the order hitter. Even if the Cubs were in position to be “sellers” at the deadline, moving Ramirez would not make sense. Typically “sellers” like to move players in order to create some more flexibility. As I have already stated, regardless of what happens with Ramirez the Cubs are going to have a lot of flexibility in the off-season.
If the Cubs were to let Ramirez walk at the end of the season, then you would have to ask yourself how will they be able to replace his run production at third base? Josh Vitters? Believe it or not, this is season is equally important for Vitters as it is Ramirez. This could be the season to determine whether Vitters is on the fast track to the majors, or is still a couple of years away. Last season with the double A – Tennessee Smokies, Vitters hit .223/.292/.383 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI’s in 63 games. Vitters does still have a high ceiling, but up to this point he has not shown anything to make me think he will be ready by 2012. I’m sure Luke may disagree with me, but Vitters does not have the appropriate amount of experience to be considered on the fast track.
If not Vitters, then you would think the Cubs would turn to the free agent market for a third baseman. Hopefully, they take a look at the list of free agents third baseman next winter. If they do, they would find that they already have the best third baseman available on their team in Aramis Ramirez. Assuming Ramirez does have a healthy rebound this season, his $16MM option may look like a bargain for the Cubs.