Friday, June 30, 2006

looking forward: third base

continuing the examination of the cubs organization by position, we now turn to third base.

of note here particularly is the status of aramis ramirez, who has the option to escape his contract following this year. even if ramirez continues to hit poorly -- through 78 games, ramirez projects out to 249/311/463 with 29 hr and 87 rbi, but will probably finish better than that if past performance is any indicator -- this page cannot imagine him not testing the free agent market in which he will be the best talent available at one of baseball's hardest-to-fill positions.

ramirez's defense and proneness to mild injuries have been occasion for some grousing on the north side, as has his recent inability to fill the hole left in the cub lineup left by the injury of derrek lee. though his free-swinging style certainly aggravated the problem, this page finds it hard to fault ramirez for being pitched around mercilessly this season as the only material threat for the cubs at the plate. and a cursory glace at ramirez's production from the hot corner in the context of all major league third basemen from 2003-5 reveals how good he has been -- fourth in total bases, fourth in home runs and sixth in extra-base hits despite being 11th in games played, yielding third in ops and second in slugging behind only the yankees' alex rodriguez.

ramirez's 2007 and 2008 with the cubs would be worth $22.5mm with a mutual option in 2009 -- but the chances of him matching or exceeding 3-years/$34mm in free agency seems quite good in a world in which scott rolen is slated for $14.5mm in 2007, rafael furcal is being paid $13mm a year and carlos lee is looking for $15mm. there is simply no other third baseman in his class available in free agency prior to 2008-9, and that should ensure a potentially hefty payday for a player who has slugged .540 in a cub uniform if he exercizes the option.

this is a major potential problem for the cubs, who have casey mcgehee in iowa and scott moore in west tenn. the lefthanded-batting moore is 22 and a former 8th-overall pick of the tigers, and is the leading prospect at third in the cub organization -- but he strikes out every third at-bat in double-a with a 4-to-1 k:bb ratio, and has posted a .338 obp in his minor league career besides being a significantly substandard defender. these characteristics are what allowed detroit to move him to the cubs in good conscience. while there is always some remote chance of metamorphosis with a young player, moore seems highly unlikely be anything like ramirez's caliber as a player despite his draft pedigree.

mcgehee at 23 is powerless and unsuitable, merely a placeholder for moore. jemel spearman in daytona is 25 and not a prospect.

as was said above, there are no free agent solutions remotely approaching ramirez prior to the 2009 season, when morgan ensberg, hank blalock and troy glaus come up -- so the fate of aramis ramirez is quite probably the single most important roster event of the upcoming offseason. third base is one of just two positions (catcher being the other) where the cubs have a clear-cut offensive advantage over most baseball clubs -- and winning teams are built of relative advantage.

this page has heard nothing this season about ramirez's intentions or of any effort of cub management to sway ramirez into staying -- if such negotiations are not underway already, they had best be today. ramirez could provide a bounty of prospective talent in trade before the july 31 deadline if the cubs know that he cannot be retained, and it behooves even an incompetent management to try to rebuild this tattered franchise. while this page certainly feels that ramirez should be retained in light of how rare 28-year-old third basemen of his acumen are and how profitable the cubs are -- aramis could certainly still be here and in his best form in 2009 and 2010 -- ramirez can well decide for himself that he does not want to be a cub anymore and the cubs have to prepare for that possibility.

if he is moved, receiving a legitimate third baseman of some level in trade is a necessity. moore could be brought up as a stopgap for 2006, but this club would have to find a more likely replacement at the position than him.

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