Tuesday, September 19, 2006

the aramis show

this page hasn't hidden its opinion that the single largest decision looming over the cubs imminent offseason is that regarding the fate of aramis ramirez. just a few days ago, we noted that the plan going forward largely revolves around whether he stays or goes. and a month ago, it was here said that his second-half flowering made the chances of him going all the more likely.

ramirez has done absolutely nothing since to increase the chances of his return to chicago in 2007. he has been singularly noncommittal in his comments, and singularly titanic standing in the batters box -- indeed, if not for ryan howard, the story of the second half in the national league would probably be aramis ramirez, as he out-pujolses pujols and turns the cubs offense into a one-man wrecking crew. the numbers: 239 at-bats, 81 hits, 16 doubles, 19 homers, 58 rbi, 158 total bases just 27 strikeouts in posting a .339 batting average, .399 on-base percentage and .661 slugging percentage. ramirez at 28 is closing in on career highs in homers, rbi, total bases and possibly doubles and hits as well. his gaudy display last night -- two home runs, seven rbi, ten total bases -- only serves to underscore one of the best imaginable halves for a player holding an option to void his contract.

the tribune company is already greasing the skids for ramirez.

Aramis Ramirez is so hot, he may hear the sounds of cash registers ringing in his sleep.

After a dreadful April and May, Ramirez is enjoying a finishing kick that may lead to a significant raise, either from the Cubs or elsewhere. He has $22 million guaranteed on the remainder of his contract, which includes an opt-out clause after this season that allows him to renegotiate or become a free agent.

Ramirez insisted his future is in his agent's hands.

"I just go out there and play the game," he said. "I'm not that smart to be thinking about playing the game and my contract at the same time. I've been pretty consistent the last few years. Whatever happens, happens."

The Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Philadelphia and Detroit are expected to take a run at Ramirez if he goes on the market. With an $11 million salary, Ramirez currently is baseball's fifth-highest paid third baseman, behind Alex Rodriguez ($21.7 million), Adrian Beltre ($12.9 million), Scott Rolen ($12.5 million) and Chipper Jones ($12.3 million).

this context offered by tribco is sadly something of an (predictable) understatement of ramirez's likely market value. when a player like rafael furcal can land a $13mm a year deal; when roy oswalt is redefining what it means to be a highly-paid pitcher; when both rolen and jones are set to draw $14mm for 2007 -- when these things are indicative of the state of the market, dear reader, a 29-year-old third baseman at the peak of his powers in a thin free agent year is a mortal lock to draw five years at $15mm per annum, and quite possibly more in money and/or years. (and 'predictable', because such conditioning of expectations will later be used, in all probability, to make ramirez's demands seem outrageous and out of line when in fact they are exactly what the market would bear.)

and ramirez is certainly that. he is nothing less than the premier slugging third baseman in baseball from 2003 to 2006, taking his tie with alex rodriguez coming out of 2005 and launching himself ahead with this stellar half which has redefined his year from what looked to be disappointing in may to career-making in september. he leads all major league third basemen in 2006 in total bases (tied with miguel cabrera at 312) and home runs (tied with troy glaus at 35), ranking third in slugging behind only cabrera and chipper jones.

friends, this page once thought that ramirez could possibly come back to the cubs, that jim hendry could open negotiations with his agent even before the end of the season to work out an extension -- and indeed such recourse was advocated if he was not to be dealt at the non-waiver trade deadline. when the deadline came and went and ramirez was still a cub, this writer quietly crossed his fingers and hoped for a sullen and slumping half from ramirez that he might not take his option and live to fight another few years under his current contract.

instead, however, ramirez has silenced all critics by devastating the national league -- and all but guaranteeing that no extension will be countenanced and quite possibly ensuring that hendry will look forever as great a fraud and a fool as he truly is as a general manager for not moving him for valuable prospects when he had the chance. ramirez is now dealing from a position of inestimable strength, and would be in the estimation of this page somewhat daft not to explore what an avaricious market might lay at his feet to play a children's game.

it is the considered opinion here that ramirez will in every likelihood not be a chicago cub in 2007 -- and that makes getting scott moore all the at-bats the team can down the stretch the highest priority, as he will more likely than not be the cubs starting third baseman next april.

none of this is to say ramirez cannot come back, that hendry cannot sign him to a monster extension, that moore must be at third six months from now. but it is to say that these possibilities are not nearly as probable as their opposites -- and that the cubs had best prepare themselves for the eventuality as best they can.

No comments: