News broke last week that Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez wanted a two or three year deal, as opposed to the one year option he has left on his contract. The 2012 option is a club option for $16 million. What should the Cubs do in this situation: pick up the option, extend Ramirez, or walk away after this season?
Let’s get some basic facts out of the way quickly. Ramirez is currently 33 years old and has a .874 OPS on the season, a year removed from a .746 OPS and a sub .300 OPS. Injuries have been an issue for Ramirez for most of his career. He’s been relatively healthy this season, playing in 145 games. Last season, he only played in 124, and in 2009, he barely cracked a half season, with 82 games played. Ramirez also played in just 123 games in 2005, and 132 in 2007. So yeah, he hasn’t exactly been a beacon of health over his career.
Another area that worries me about Ramirez is his defense. Every year he’s been in Chicago (starting in 2004, after a midseason trade from the Pirates in 2003), he’s had a below average UZR and DRS rating, aside from 2007, which is an anomaly. Even including that 2007 year, he’s racked up -39 runs saved, costing his team nearly four wins, and has a -3.6 UZR/150. Because of his bad defense and health questions, I wouldn’t want him at third base for an extended period of time. He’d be better served as a DH, where his awful defense wouldn’t be a factor and he could focus on hitting the ball and staying healthy.
Over the course of his current contract, from 2007 to 2011, Ramirez has made $75 million. He’s only been worth $69.5 million, mainly due to A) his injury problems and B) his glove and C) terrible baserunning (he routinely ranks among the worst runners in the league according to Fangraphs). Ramirez is a solid player, but I’m not sure he’s a franchise cornerstone, especially at the age of 33.
The Cubs are a mess right now. They have too many obscene contracts floating around, and they need to slic some of it off the top. Declining Ramirez’s option would be a good place to start. At the very least, not giving him a contract extension would be wise. There are a couple of teams around baseball that could use a third baseman, despite my opinion that he’d be better served as a DH. One option is the Angels, who are currently rolling out Alberto Callaspo and his .724 OPS. Adding a player like Ramirez would help the team offensively, but would they want to add on another contract after taking on the behemoth known as Vernon Wells this past offseason, and giving Jered Weaver an extension?
The market could be slim for Ramirez, and he might have to settle for a low money offer if the Cubs decline his option. Chicago has few options on the free agent market, but the best ones appear to be Edwin Encarnacion of Toronto (like Ramirez, an atrocious defender), former Cub Mark DeRosa (who has only logged 183 plate appearances over the last two seasons in San Francisco) and Wilson Betemit of the Tigers. One thing all three of these players have in common: they’re all bench bats, primarily. Internally, the best option is Josh Vitters in AA Tennessee, the former third overall pick. Vitters still appears to be a work in progress, but after the Cubs pulled the trigger on Starlin Castro last year, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them do the same with Vitters.
The Cubs won’t compete next year, that’s a fact. Thus, I don’t see why they should spend $16 million to bring Ramirez back to the team, let alone sign him to a multi-year deal and hold Vitters back even more. If I were in Chicago’s position right now, I’d let Ramirez walk after the season, and sign a one year stopgap that I mentioned above, hoping that Vitters would be ready for the 2013 season. Hell, maybe the stopgap will struggle early on and Vitters will play lights out for the Iowa Cubs, and get a call-up next season. Regardless of whether or not that happens, I really don’t believe that the Cubs need to bring back Ramirez next year. It’s a move that a franchise in as bad of shape as the Cubs just shouldn’t do.