I believe Ramirez to be the Cubs best player, and their least-affordable injury casualty. Although no team likes injuries to its stars, I fear the Cubs will miss Ramirez in a big way.
Ramirez has always been a good hitter, but had arguably his best season as a professional last year. While his batting average was his lowest since 2003, his on-base percentage rose significantly to .380, the result of a new-found patience at the plate. Ramirez was the big bat in the Cubs lineup and was so for the entire season.
While Alfonso Soriano can go on incredible tears, and others such as Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto had their big days and weeks, no other Cub was there from start to finish like Ramirez was.
Things started off good this year for Ramirez, though a calf injury forced him out of over a week’s worth of games. He was hitting .364 with an OPS of 1.008 and it was looking like the Cubs were finding their stride. Things change quickly though, and now the Cubs are looking at Ryan Freel and possibly Bobby Scales to help shoulder the load.
Freel, a constant injury risk, is a veteran capable of playing multiple positions, but is not capable of excelling in any of them.
Scales, though a feel-good story, is a 31-year old career minor leaguer, so he has little chance of making an impact, much less filling the shoes of Ramirez’s big bat. That leaves Mike Fontenot as the likely replacement.
Fontenot, or “Little Babe Ruth” as he is sometimes called by manager Lou Piniella, has some pop in his bat, but is hitting below .250 with an alarming number of strikeouts (17 in 88 at-bats). Because of his strikeouts, it is unclear where he is best suited in the lineup.
One thing is clear: the Cubs need to find answers to the vacant hole in this lineup. The obvious answer is simply, start hitting. Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto, and newly acquired Milton Bradley are hitting .209, .159 and .150 respectively.
These numbers will obviously get higher, but the question every Cubs fan now must be asking is when? Though it is only May, it is looking more and more likely that the Cardinals will be in the race for the duration, and the Cubs can ill-afford losing much ground in Ramirez’s absence.
I know a lot of Cubs fans will be blaming the organization for letting Mark DeRosa get away, and I admit he would be useful now, but I will back up my beliefs at the time and say that losing DeRosa was and is not the biggest loss for the Cubs.
His ability to play third base was helpful, but I just think that the 34-year old had a career year of which he will not repeat. With his contract up at the end of the year, I think the Cubs made the correct decision in moving him.
But this is no time to worry about players that are no longer on the Cubs roster. It is time to worry about what the Cubs can do to maintain a winning record in the weeks and months that follow.
While one Ramirez (Manny) will be likely enjoying the Hollywood lifestyle as he waits for 50 games for a suspension to be served, the other one, Aramis will be rehabbing and doing all he can to get healthy quickly.
It is up to his teammates now to pick up the slack and win ball games.