Around 2:30 this afternoon, news broke that Aramis Ramirez’s agent, Paul Kinzer, informed the Chicago Cubs that his client will opt out of the final year of his deal, which also happens to be a team option, and file for free agency. However, Ramirez’s agent would not rule out the possibility that he would re-sign with the Cubs in the off season, but only if the team was not in full rebuild mode. In other words, unless the Cubs make a huge splash in free agency, likely by signing either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, his tenure with the Cubs is likely over, even though he has claimed in the past that he wanted to retire a Chicago Cub.
Since joining the Cubs midway through 2003, Ramirez has put on a show for the Wrigley Faithful and has cemented a place for himself in Cubs history. In his nearly eight years with the ball club he has become the second greatest third baseman in Cubs history, right behind the late great Ron Santo. He was also the first long term third baseman the Cubs have had since Santo was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the end of his career. With his apparent departure, you have to wonder when the Cubs will once again be able to fill the vacant hot corner. Last night, 30 years past before they found a solid fixture, hopefully this time the fans do not have to wait so long for a permanent replacement.
With the third base free agent class being very weak, Ramirez becomes the best player available at that position, and should draw a lot of attention from several teams who need someone at third. The bidding war for the aging veteran will likely surpass whatever amount the Cubs would be willing to spend to bring him back, unless he gives the team he says he wants to return to a “home town discount”. With this being the final long term deal of his career, I am not so sure that he will be willing to give a significant discount to the Cubs in order to finish his career with them.
Now that you have a pretty good idea that Ramirez’s Cubs career is over, in my own opinion, the time has come to do what is best for both the player and the team. Sit A-Ram down for the remainder of the season and play a young player over at the hot corner.
How does that benefit Ramirez? The answer to that is quite easy. He has an injured qaud, so in the interest of his health, he should be sat the remainder of the year. Let the injury heal so he can fully heal before any physical that he would need to take before signing a new contract. I doubt Ramirez would have much problem with that scenario as he gets paid whether he plays or not. Why risk making an injury worse if you are about to reach free agency? I believe he will be happy to sit out the remaining six games while the Cubs begin the rebuilding process.
The question then turns to which kid do you throw at third base for the remainder of the year? You could turn to the kid who is playing there today, DJ LeMahieu. Let him test his ability and skill while the Cubs get a good look to see if he can play every day at the major league level. Sure, this is September baseball and no teams have advanced scouts so you need to take anything these call ups do with a grain of salt, but you would get an idea of what he can do.
Another option would be to allow Starlin Castro to spread his wings and fly over at the hot corner. He may not be a bad option, especially since he does have a strong arm and good range. Add in to his ever growing power, he could grow into an excellent option over there. Then the problem would be who plays short stop, or who plays second base if Darwin Barney shifts over as well. Time will tell how the Cubs will handle the third base position going forward, but you can be sure things will be interesting.
There is some good news that comes with the departure of Ramirez, even for those fans who do wish he would return. The Cubs will be saving the $16 Million that he would have made next year, which can be spent elsewhere, perhaps on the pitching staff or a certain first baseman who shall be left unnamed. That is not the only good news however. From the sound of some of the reports, because Ramirez was the one who opted out of the 2012 deal and not the team, the Cubs may in fact be off the hook for the $2 Million buyout to the contract. So that is another $2 Million that the Cubs can use to rebuild a ball club that seemed to have fallen apart. Heck, they might even be more willing to ship off Alfonso Soriano knowing that they suddenly have this extra money that they can throw into a deal to help a team pay his contract. However, that “saved money” might actually be put towards the Carlos Zambrano going away package.
Ramirez declaring for free agency, six games before the season actually ends, should open the flood gates that should have been opened for the trade deadline back in July. That means letting Carlos Pena walk, trading Marlon Byrd and trying desperately to send Alfonso Soriano packing. Without Ramirez, there is little reason to sign Pujols, Fielder or even bringing Pena back.
Let the rebuilding process begin. The only question is will Cub fans be willing to sit through a few years of what could be sub .500 baseball while the kids grow and learn on the job?
In what may have been the most pathetic display of baseball I have ever seen, and trust me there has been a lot over the years following the Chicago Cubs, the game they played Tuesday night against the Houston Astros may just take the cake. Nothing but lazy and sloppy defense came out of this game, and buried the Cubs in a 5-0 hole before the second inning was over. There is not one single player who is at fault, as a matter of fact there are several who helped doom the Cubs before you most people could find their seats.
Firstly, I never want to see James Russell ever pitch in a game for the Cubs again, much less start a game for them. Being placed on a 50 pitch count, the youngster making his first career start could not even get out of the second inning before reaching his limit, and allowed five runs to cross the plate. To think, we yell at Carlos Zambrano for being at 80 pitches in the fifth inning, that is nothing compared to the crapfest that Russell delivered to us. Perhaps he should be sent back down to the minors so that he can work on not only learning how to manage his pitch counts and work on not throwing more than 25 pitches per inning, but also working on throwing balls that are not hit as though they are on a batting tee.
To make things worse, our substitute pitcher on the night failed to cover first base on consecutive bunts to lead off the bottom of the first. I do not care who the base runner is, that is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated. If he is to stay with the major league roster, he better make sure to take bunting drills every day until he is able to get to first in time to field a throw.
The rest of the pitching was just as bad, however Jeff Samardzija was not great, but not bad at all coming out of the bullpen. He gave up two runs over three innings of work, and I will take that effort every time out of him. As much grief as I, and all Cub fans, give him, he deserves credit for a decent outing. Jeff Stevens and Marcus Mateao put up scoreless innings to help the Cubs as much as they could, but that is where all good things ended for the Cubs pitching staff. John Grabow came into the game and decided to take whatever doubt there was in the minds of the Astro fans that this game was still in jeopardy; as he usually does when he comes into a ball game.
Russell’s less than pathetic pitching was not helped by any of his outfielders, all three of them decided to take the night off from defense. We are used to seeing Alfonso Soriano drop the occasional fly ball or bobble a ball when he goes to make a play, so that is nothing new. However, not to be out done, both Marlin Byrd and Tyler Colvin got in on the act by misplaying the same ball that was bouncing to the wall. Colvin also allowed a ball to drop right in front of him later in the inning, when he could have likely made a sliding or a diving catch. If that were Soriano, he would have been barbequed for that lack of hustle, but hey fans love Colvin and Byrd so those two plays likely will not get a mention elsewhere. Add in Reed Johnson dropping the ball that was scorched to deep center and you have every single outfielder coming up short on fly balls. Johnson though, did have a very impressive effort on a fly ball to the following hitter, reminiscent to the remarkable catch he made against the Cincinnati Reds a few years back, which he just missed catching.
The outfield defense, or lack thereof, was not the end of the ugly defensive play in the first two innings. Everyone’s favorite new player, Darwin Barney, also had a brain cramp which allowed another runner to cross the plate. After Soriano bobbled the ball, he threw a strike to second base which helped get Bill Hall in a rundown between first and second. Granted, the base runner was out of the baseline (which the umpire completely missed) but the tag should have been applied before the runner from third was allowed to cross the plate. Or, if you are smart, you ignore the runner between first and second and throw to third or home to keep the other guy from scoring. I know he is young, but that is something that you should learn early on. Let’s not forget the two blunders in the eighth inning by Blake Dewitt. After Johnson dropped a deep fly ball, he threw a strike to Dewitt, who likewise dropped the ball. He also committed an error on a ball hit right to him. Another ugly defensive error to add to the mix.
The hitting has not been horrible, they did get a few good hits to land. The problem comes into play when you take into account that they had very little, if any, timely hitting. Even in the sixth inning when there were men on second and third with only one out, the Cubs could not even score a run as Hall caught a blooper hit off the bat of Soriano into “no mans land” which would have scored a run. Granted, Colvin actually got a hit, which was actually turned into a home run, but for the most part the hitting was perfectly pathetic. Another example would be Reed Johnson leading off the eighth inning with a double, only to be stranded with the next three men making outs. They showed some signs of life in the ninth getting the first two men on base, second and third with no outs, but could only muster a single run, not that I really expected them to actually score the 10 runs needed to tie the game.
To steal a line from one of my favorite baseball movies, “Bull Durham”, “this is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” Sadly, the Cubs went 0-3 with this obvious concept of baseball. The pitching, the hitting and the defense all completely dropped the ball early on in today’s game, leaving the Cubs sitting behind the figurative eight ball.
With the Cubs having one more game against these Astros tomorrow, all we can do is hope and pray that Zambrano is on his game and can give this team some serious innings while twirling a gem. If we lose tomorrow, we are going to have a very ugly road trip as we head to Denver to face the Colorado Rockies for a series starting Friday. Even if we win tomorrow, we face the likelihood of ending a road trip with a record of 3-6 or 4-5. Not a good way to come home if you have any hopes of contending in your division.
As Spring Training continues, so does my look at the team we can expect to see leaving Mesa, Arizona. Having covered the players who will be tagged as the every day starters, as well as the biggest threat coming off the bench, Tyler Colvin, the time has come to look at the remainder of the bench. If a team is going to be successful, they need to have a deep bench, and have some sort of depth. Today, we will see if that is the case for the Chicago Cubs, or if they will have a problem in the upcoming season.
For the Cubs, they will have a five man bench, which most likely will consist of Colvin, Jeff Baker (who will be in a platoon with Blake DeWitt), Koyie Hill, and there is currently a battle for the last two spots. One battle is for the remaining outfield spot between Reed Johnson and Fernando Perez. The last infield spot is between Augie Ojeda and Darwin Barney. Both Johnson and Ojeda were big fan favorites when they were with the team in their first stints, and have regained their fandom with their return on minor league contracts. Personally, my choice for the last two spots would be Perez and Barney, because they are both young players and have a lot more upside to offer for the season. However, because of their experience, Johnson and Ojeda might have an edge in taking the final two spots.
Sadly, outside of Colvin, the Cubs have absolutely no depth to work with this season; at least not with the current batch of players they have contending for a spot. None of them are anything special, nor would they give you much hope if they need to play an extended period of games.
Having already covered Baker in my blog on second base, and with Colvin already being singled out in my last blog, I will not touch on them, because I would be repeating myself. So I move on to the other players who will fill out the bench.
There is only other player who is guaranteed to have a job this year, though I would much rather see Wellington Castillo, but that is not my choice. With Hill, you have a dependable defensive catcher who can call a good game, sadly for him that is where the praises come to an end. He adds almost nothing offensively, and is a massive drop off from Geovany Soto. I do not mind him getting the occasional start, but if we have to see him too much behind the dish, the Cubs will be in for a very long season, and likely one that does not offer a chance at a playoff birth, let alone a division title. We can only hope that Soto stays healthy all year, and Cubs Manager Mike Quade does not feel the need to play Hill nearly as often as former manager Lou Piniella thought he should play.
In the outfield, you have Johnson and Perez competing for the final spot. Johnson is getting the support of the fan base, as well as one current member of the Cubs Marlon Byrd. He has the experience, and fans have a pretty good idea of what they can expect to get out of him on a daily basis, even though he is an injury risk and is getting up their in age. With Perez, he is a player who is of the mold of what Sam Fuld was. He brings with him a good glove, and a fair amount of speed. If you feel as many of us do, that this is a rebuilding year, then Perez should get the gig so he can learn on the job and be better prepared for the years to come. If you think that the Cubs are going to be a contender, then the reverse is true and Johnson should get the gig.
The last position battle is between Ojeda and Barney, they will be the main backup for Aramis Ramirez and Starlin Castro. While Ojeda is the seasoned veteran he does not add much offensive, though he does have a pretty decent glove which can aid in the defense. Barney, much like Perez, is a young player trying to learn on the job. I believe that he is an all around better player than Ojeda, and should ultimately get the job over him. I can not see anything that Ojeda does better than Barney. However, if Quade would rather have another veteran presence on the team, then there is no question that Ojeda should get the job.
As you can see, I am highly unimpressed with anyone on our bench, outside of Colvin. Our every day players are strong enough to get the job done, and we can live with a player from the bench giving them the occasional day off, but that is all we can afford. If there is any sort of significant injury to any one of our everyday players, our team will very likely be sunk. There is just not enough talent on the bench to carry a team if they are called upon too often. With the history of injury some of our players have had, most obvious with Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, we could very well be in for a very long, and disappointing season. All because our bench is filled with far too many deficiencies.