Tuesday, October 31, 2006

clouds gather over the aramis talks

yesterday's news that aramis ramirez had filed for free agency, exercizing his option to void the remainder of his contract, has awakened much of cubdom to the difficult state of negotiations between the team and agent paul kinzer. bruce miles initially reported on saturday that the sides were far apart.

Paul Kinzer also wouldn’t put odds on whether Ramirez would file for free agency and test the open market.

“We’ve had some discussions, but there’s nothing imminent right now, “Kinzer said. “We’ve still got a ways to go. I don’t want to say right now (about Ramirez filing for free agency), but we’re still talking. That’s still his first choice.”

despite kinzer's reluctance to speculate on saturday, ramirez filed monday in a move was called "procedural" by many, including miles. but it may say something significant about the state of affairs between the negotiating parties.

filing early in the free agent declaration window -- which opened saturday and will close at the end of november 11 -- is a tactic that players can and do use as a signal of the seriousness of their demands in renegotiating their deal with their current club, effectively reminding the club that they can go to market. it is also confirmation of miles' original report that a chasm remains to be bridged between the two sides -- such a move becomes a plausible tactic if and when the parties are far apart with little promise, when sabre-rattling seems to become potentially useful.

sabre-rattling is, then, very often indicative of comprehensive failure. filing yesterday does nearly nothing to actually increase aramis' leverage per se that filing on november 11 wouldn't also have done -- provided one accepts that he, kinzer and jim hendry all understand a significant and pervasive interest in one of the top free agents in baseball, and who doesn't? it's hardly as though the move reveals something to hendry that he shouldn't already have known. the move isn't informative in the slightest -- it's simply a public threat. and when down to threats between parties that both feel they have another way out besides accomodation, situations are only rarely rectified.

so while the filing itself can technically be called a "formality", it is probably quite a lot more than that -- it is a falling barometer regarding an extended stay with the cubs for ramirez. anyone who credibly dismisses the filing as irrelevant must do so from the grounds that a deal was unlikely in the first place -- for while it may do little to materially or irreversibly change the situation on the ground, it augurs quite poorly for an eventual pact.

this situation is quickly gaining an patina familiar to those who watched as hendry failed to land rafael furcal last year. it seems obvious that what the cubs and kinzer have in mind are still poles apart after some discussion, and that better offers from other suitors have been intimated and may even have been whispered. today once again, the tribune is managing expectations -- painting ramirez as disingenuous and immovable and the cubs as merely prudent. strangely and perhaps tellingly, it is only this week that rumors of a no-trade clause in ramirez's deal for 2005 and 2006 have surfaced. as these notions almost certainly have their source in the cubs administration, their truthfulness is to be questioned -- at no point previous to this week was this page aware of any mention of a no-trade clause, and such a clause can ostensibly be spun to put the onus of failing to deal ramirez at the trade deadline on the player, not the management:

Ramirez had a no-trade provision in the first two years of his four-year, $42 million deal, and he told the Tribune during the '06 season he did not want to be traded, no matter how bad it got for the Cubs.

this is deceptive at best on the part of the tribune -- for even if such a clause actually existed, ramirez could very well have changed his mind and accepted a trade to a contending team in july even after publicly expressing a desire to stay motivated by duty in may when the team was falling apart -- an expression that the paper is now conspicuously turning against him.

moreover, if such a clause existed, one must ask -- who in their right mind gave ramirez a deal that not only made him untradable for two years but then gave him the option to walk scot free at the end of it? even under the initially reported terms, this page considered the deal an unwarranted shifting of risk to the club for a minor fiscal reward -- and that estimation is doubled if a no-trade clause was also included. the contract may be forgotten by the masses quickly enough, but this page doubts any of its readers would have negotiated for the team a contract so questionable. if this was the result of a shortsighted effort to sign ramirez at a total net savings of a few million dollars over two years, jim hendry and the cubs would have once again hamstrung the club with the elan of managerial incompetence that only they seem capable of mustering.

in any case, it increasingly appears that this page will be sadly borne out and that the biggest fork in the road facing the club coming out of 2006 will end with the team's offensive leader leaving without compensation.

it can certainly be argued that whether or not ramirez is resigned is a choice between bad options -- that the best option was forfeited in july when the trade deadline passed. but this much is virtually certain: aramis ramirez is a vital piece to any hopeful plan to win immediately for this club. his production probably cannot be replaced at third this year short of a blockbuster trade for miguel cabrera or miguel tejada, and his loss will likely back hendry into a desperate corner when it comes time to talk to alfonso soriano in mid-november. this page would still expect hendry to put a push on to bring ramirez back -- in order to try to execute a one-year turnaround, not to mention look somewhat less foolish for having failed to get anything for him -- but the odds of success look dimmer now than ever.

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