It's only mid-April, but there are plenty of people already discussing who on the Cubs roster should get traded.
The discussions always center around what those players are doing on the field—obviously an important part in discussing potential trades, but are usually short on providing full context.
Trades are much more complex than, "Well, I have this guy that I want to get rid of and you have this other guy that I want. Any chance you want to make a swap?"
I don't claim to be the foremost expert on major league transactions, but there are certain aspects that just aren't being considered in all these hypothetical situations.
The one proposal that caught my eye most recently was an article about the Cubs' starting third baseman .
For my purposes here, I won't get into whether or not Aramis Ramirez should get moved. That topic is covered in the aforementioned article and is a matter of personal opinion.
My main concern is the probability of such a trade.
From everything I'm looking at, it just won't happen. Jim Hendry, the Cubs GM, simply got a little too creative in writing up this particular contract.
For those that don't know what I'm talking about, let's take a quick look at what potential trade partners will be picking apart in any negotiations.
The Cubs third baseman will be making at least $15.75 million this year. Next season, subject to a player option, Aramis will be due $14.6 million. The final year of his contract, a club option, is worth $16 million with a $2 million buyout.
In addition to the salary figures, his contract contains a full no-trade clause through the 2010 season and requires a one million dollar assignment bonus to be paid by whoever trades him away.
It's true that a no-trade clause doesn't mean that you can't trade a player. It just means that you have to get his permission, which can make the process infinitely more complex.
That reality, plus the assignment bonus, means that the Cubs are unlikely to trade him before the offseason. After all, why trade him during the season when you could save a million dollars by waiting a few months?
Of course, trading him in the offseason means that he has exercised his 2011 option. With the recent frugality of teams on the free agent market, I'm sure Aramis realizes that his only guarantee to make $14.6 million or more next season is to exercise the option.
Unless he's getting bad advice, he's probably going to do it.
But that brings up another interesting provision in his contract. If Ramirez exercises his 2011 option and is traded, the 2012 club option then becomes guaranteed.
This means that any team looking to acquire Aramis this offseason won't be looking at $14.6 million for one year, but at $30.6 million over two years.
Although it wouldn't require the same amount that a Fukudome trade would, trading Ramirez this offseason would most likely mean eating a portion of that contract.
At least we don't need his permission to trade him, though. Right?
Actually, we would.
I forgot to mention that this is Ramirez's thirteenth big league season and seventh full season with the Cubs. That means that he will still have no-trade protection under the Collective Bargaining Agreement's 10-5 Rights, even after his contractual no-trade protection expires.
On the bright side, his service time would obviously be under five years with his new team (dissolving the 10-5 protection) and his contractual protection would be expired. As weird as it sounds, an important aspect to consider when acquiring a player is how easily you can get rid of him.
Then, you still have to consider it from the Cubs standpoint.
What could the Cubs get in return?
Aging free agents have learned the hard way that teams are valuing youth more and more every year. I'm sure that the upcoming offseason won't buck that trend.
He's no Mark Teixeira, who the Rangers traded away for four key members of their current roster. Instead, Ramirez is the third most expensive third baseman in major league baseball and will be on the back end of his prime years.
With his injury history, there's no guarantee that his production will continue for the two years that he's with them, so how much would a team really give up for him?
More importantly, knowing what Aramis is capable of providing, what would Hendry be asking for?
The gap that lies between the answers to those two questions would likely trigger the quick death of any discussions that Hendry might have.
If it were to happen, though, would they have a replacement ready?
Right now, the only immediate replacements are Chad Tracy and Jeff Baker.
Both are fine replacements if Ramirez goes down with another injury, but they might not be what the Cubs are looking for at the position.
Tracy is obviously more likely to fill the offensive production, but who knows whether or not he actually would.
After the two of them, the Cubs are waiting for Josh Vitters to develop. It currently looks as though the club is moving him one level at a time, a pace which would set his big league debut for the middle of the 2012 season.
If they believe that Vitters is the long-term answer, though, they'll still need to bide their time with someone else.
That's where the free agents come in.
For the free agent class of 2011, the potentially available third basemen are Garrett Atkins, Jorge Cantu, Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliz, Bill Hall, Brandon Inge, Mike Lowell, Melvin Mora, Jhonny Peralta, Nick Punto, and Ty Wiggington.
Or maybe you could move a shortstop over there. Then you're looking at Alex Gonzalez, Christian Guzman, J.J. Hardy, Omar Infante, Cesar Izturis, Maicer Izturis, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, and Ramon Vazquez, too.
You might even include some second basemen like Willie Bloomquist, Mark Ellis, Akinori Iwamura, Jose Lopez, or Kaz Matsui.
With Soriano taking up a roster spot for the next four years and Derrek Lee possibly being elsewhere after this year, Jim Hendry can't afford too much of a drop in offensive production at a corner position.
Considering that the Cubs could be paying a portion of Aramis Ramirez's contract while he's with another team, which of these players would Hendry think could sufficiently replace him for two years at a reasonable price?
Basically, when you look at the possibility of this trade happening in its full context, you find that he'd be tough to move and tough to replace. The only way that changes is if he were to struggle at the plate this season.
Of course, if he ends up struggling like that, the Cubs would have a tough time trading him without eating a large portion of his contract.
It would then be easier to just eat his 2011 salary and 2012 buyout, either by keeping him and not exercising their club option or releasing him if things got really bad.
Any way you slice it, a trade involving Aramis Ramirez probably won't happen.
If you think he should stick around a while longer, then rest easy. If you think that he needs to go, just wait until the end of 2011.
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