The Chicago Cubs player to pay most attention to this spring is Aramis Ramirez. He has come into camp claiming to have worked harder than ever this offseason and has even taken twice as many at bats this spring to fight the chance of a slow start.
While Cubs manager Mike Quade may not have mentioned Ramirez as one of the veteran leaders on the 2011 version of the Cubs, he is the most important player if they have any chance at taking back the Central Division title. Why? When Ramirez is healthy and productive, the Cubs are winning. When he is combating pesky injuries and racking up strikeouts, they might as well not even show up to the ballpark.
When the Cubs traded for Aramis Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003, they knew they were getting a poor fielder with the potential to become one of the better sluggers in the National League. Ramirez may still be one of the worst fielders in the league, but he has become one of the cornerstones of Chicago’s favorite franchise and one of the most clutch players to put on the blue pinstripes.
Along with Derrek Lee, Ramirez was relied upon to tally the team’s RBI and game-winning hits. But with Derrek Lee in Baltimore, and a lineup full of question marks, Ramirez must step up as the main cog in the lineup if the Cubs have any shot to win the Central crown.
Any Cubs fan will tell you that they wouldn’t want anyone else standing in the batter’s box during winning time in the ninth inning. His knack for the clutch home run can’t possibly be explained with stats. Who can forget the three-run ding dong he hit in 2007 against the Brewers to give the Cubs momentum to overtake Milwaukee and win the Central division that year? Or the dramatic shots against their biggest rivals the White Sox in 2008 and Cardinals in 2009?
But remember this: When the Cubs were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007 and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, Ramirez went a combined 2-for-23 with seven strikeouts. And since winning back to back division championships, the Cubs have hovered around the .500 mark, going 158-165.
Much of that is due to the fact that Ramirez missed almost half the 2009 season when he suffered a dislocated shoulder against the Brewers, missing 50 games. Ramirez could only watch helplessly from the bench as the Cubs went 24-26 during that stretch.
In 2010, Ramirez was forced to the DL after combating a nagging shoulder and thumb. And although he tried to fight through the pain, he started slow, hitting below .200 until July. Not even a roster with the third-highest payroll in 2010 ($147 million) can succeed when their best power hitter is sitting on the bench.
Cub fans are hoping that Ramirez went through rehabilitation similar to RoboCop and comes back in 2011 murdering baseballs and launching missiles like America’s most violent cyborg. So far, everything is going fine. Ramirez has hit .300 with six RBI this spring.
If he can stay healthy and capture the magic he bottled up from 2003-2008, Ramirez has a chance to be the veteran leader the Cubs need for them to have a shot at making this year next year.