On Tuesday, Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez reportedly received a cortisone shot in his ailing left shoulder. He will be out of the lineup until at least Thursday's finale against Philadelphia.
He should be out until next year's Spring Training.
The Cubs are certainly in a fight for the Wild Card and their division crown. Despite their woeful showing in Colorado this weekend, the numbers would indicate that the Cubs have plenty to play for in August and September.
That shouldn't change the Cubs' approach with Ramirez; he needs to be shut down for the winter now.
Ramirez turned just 31 years old in late June, and should have a handful of productive years left in him. The Cubs have invested in him as a player after acquiring him from Pittsburgh in 2003, and he has rewarded their faith by becoming a solid defensive third baseman to compliment his great offensive abilities.
Derrek Lee has had a wonderful season in 2009, but there is no question that Ramirez is the mojo in the Cubs offense. He has been their best hitter in the clutch over the last three years, and deserves to hit fourth on a daily basis.
But that's where the Cubs' great problem arrives. How does a team in a pennant chase shut down their most clutch player?
There are a number of reasons the Cubs should shut down Ramirez, both in the best interests of the 2009 season and the organization's future.
First of all, the Cubs have a replacement to play third base every day in Jake Fox. Fox has done nothing but force manager Lou Piniella to think about him every day since he arrived in Chicago. He's hitting .301 with eight home runs and 28 runs batted in after only 123 at bats entering Tuesday night's game.
Playing Fox every day would do two things for the Cubs. First, it would put a capable bat in the lineup every day, which is not true if Ramirez cannot follow through on his swing with the bad shoulder. It also helps Fox find a place to play in the field, thereby increasing his trade value for this winter should the Cubs decide to move him.
If Ramirez cannot swing with full force, the Cubs aren't helping him or themselves by keeping him available. He's too good to keep on the bench if he's available, but it's not in either party's best interests to have him out there.
The second reason the Cubs should shut him down is because he needs to get his shoulder fixed. This is reportedly the third time he's had this issue, and the Cubs have too much money invested in him for it to be an ongoing issue.
A great case study, and evidence to why the Cubs should shut Ramirez down, can be found no further from Wrigley than just a few miles down the Red Line at US Cellular Field.
In 2007, the White Sox third baseman Joe Crede had back issues and decided to try to play through the pain instead of getting surgery. Granted, he was staring down the barrel of a walk-year in 2008 and was trying to help a team in a similar position to the 2009 Cubs, but Crede's inevitable surgery was delayed and it cost him in both games and performance in 2008.
Likewise, the Cubs cannot afford for Ramirez to miss any of 2010 because of a 2009 injury. Next year is the final year of the contracts of, among others, Lee and Ted Lilly. Indeed, the Cubs will face the potential of losing even Ramirez after 2010 if he opts to not stay with the team; he has a player option that would pay him $14.6 million in 2011.
This team is built to win either this year or next year; nothing after 2010 can be assumed (except the return of Milton Bradley).
For Ramirez's health, and for the sake of daily consistency in the lineup, the Cubs should shut down Ramirez for the rest of the season.
But it's deeper than just those two pieces. The Cubs have limited resources in their minor leagues to replenish any substantial losses to the big league roster. As it is, this year has seen rookies like Fox and Randy Wells play unexpectedly significant roles. If you believe anything scouts write about the Cubs' system depth, there isn't much after those guys.
The only big-time prospect in the Cubs organization from a positional stand point is a third baseman named Josh Vitters. However, Vitters appears to be at least a couple years away from being ready for Wrigley Field, meaning the Cubs need Ramirez to be healthy for as much of the rest of his contract as they can get from him.
If the Cubs care about 2009 and beyond, they should shut Ramirez down... both for their good and his.