Aramis Ramirez has played his last game as a Chicago Cub. His agent, Paul Kinzer, stated "that ship has sailed." It's the right time for both sides to go their separate ways: Ramirez is searching for his last big deal at the age of 33, while the front office has an eye on the future.
With a 2011 line of .306/.361/.510, Ramirez' numbers were higher than his career average. Expecting to find a player that will immediately step in and produce like Aramis Ramirez by way of free agency is unrealistic. The players available don't fit with the future of the Chicago Cubs. There are players available via trade, along with two internal moves that are realistic.
The following options provide choices to answer the lingering question on the North Side: Who replaces Aramis Ramirez on Opening Day?
Blake DeWitt is 26 years old, arbitration-eligible and has a career fielding percentage at third base of .949. One thing Blake DeWitt is not, and most will agree, is the future of the Chicago Cubs.
In 2011, DeWitt appeared in 121 games, with a line of .265/.305/.413. If taken to arbitration, DeWitt is expected to get $1.2 million. That is very affordable for a player with DeWitt's numbers.
Signing DeWitt for 2012 would allow the farm system to continue developing, and it'd be interesting to see what Blake DeWitt could do with a full season at third base. If the Cubs decide to non-tender DeWitt, then Jeff Baker is the in-house option, for $200,000 more.
David Wright is an extremely attractive option should the Cubs decide to fill their need via trade. He is a younger version of Aramis Ramirez, as well as a career .300 hitter who in 2012 will be playing for his next contract. With the Mets in danger of losing Jose Reyes following the Marlins' six-year, $90 million offer, it may be time for the Mets to rebuild and the Cubs can offer some talent in exchange for the rental of David Wright.
2011 was the first season since his rookie year that Wright played fewer than 144 games. He is a Gold Glove award winner at third base, and when reviewing his career thus far through the age of 28, comparable players include Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen and the player Wright would replace—Aramis Ramirez.
As stated before, Miami has reportedly offered Jose Reyes a six-year deal worth $90 million. In 2008, Hanley Ramirez signed a six-year deal worth $70 million. It appears the Marlins intend to move Hanley Ramirez to third base in order to accommodate Reyes, so why wouldn't the Cubs at least inquire about his availability?
Ramirez is under contract until 2014, when he will be 30 years old. Currently, at the age of 27, he is approaching his prime and would be an immediate improvement over Aramis Ramirez in terms of hitting and fielding.
With Hanley Ramirez not as excited about the Reyes move as he was during the season, why not offer Miami a heavily discounted Carlos Zambrano for Hanley Ramirez? Two disgruntled employees with fresh starts.
Imagine Starlin Castro leading off with Hanley Ramirez behind him. When Ramirez's contract is up in 2014, the prospects in the Cubs farm system will be adequately developed to produce immediately in the major leagues. Hanley Ramirez is both a stopgap and a piece for the future, and should be considered by the front office.
Josh Vitters and Junior Lake are the final options, should the Cubs non-tender DeWitt and decline acquiring a solution via trade. This idea is also predicated on whether Vitters and Lake produce during spring training.
Vitters played 100 games at third base during the 2011 season for Double-A Tennessee. Junior Lake has been compared to Starlin Castro in terms of potential, but until his numbers spiked during last month's Arizona Fall League, most thought he was regressing.
In order to completely form the future plan of the Chicago Cubs, perhaps this is the best option; give these prospects some at-bats in the big leagues, and see how they produce. The Cubs have other options in the farm system, the most exciting being 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez. If this experiment were to fail, hopefully Baez would be ready for 2013.