One of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's first decisions leading the Chicago Cubs was picking up the one year option for Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs third baseman for the past nine years. The option was for over $16 million. And thus it was surprising when the Cubs did indeed pick up that option. Fangraphs did peg Ramirez's worth in the field at $16.2 million for his 2011 campaign. But his last three year average due to injuries and a downturn in his play comes in at just under $9 million a year. So what the heck were Epstein and Hoyer thinking? Turns out that they might have known just what they were doing.
Ramirez had made it clear that it would take a multi-year contract from the Cubs for him to stay. And as reported here, had a contractual option to opt out of the option and forfeit the $2 million buyout as well. And that's exactly what Ramirez has done. The Cubs still have the option to offer him arbitration, which they most likely will do so that when Ramirez walks as a Type B free agent, they will get one draft pick as compensation.
Losing Ramirez in this manner is the best of all worlds for the Cubs. They save $16 million. They save $2 million on the buyout and they get a draft pick. They also lose a player that has been part of the entrenched culture of the Cubs for the past nine seasons. There are wins all around in this scenario for the Cubs. Let's start with the performance issues.
Metrics show that Aramis Ramirez has declined in the field to pretty dramatic levels. In his peak years, he rated from -1.5 to -3.0 in that department. His last two years have come in at -6.5 and -9.4 respectively. His base running has also declined. While he was never great on the base paths, he's compiled a combined -10.7 in that category the past two years. He did have a good year at the plate in over 600 plate appearances in 2011. He surpassed his career wOBA and wRC+ with his 2011 play. But his ISO is down from his peak years and realistically, you can't expect him (at the age of 34 and onward) to repeat those kinds of numbers going forward.
Then there is the culture issue which isn't as black and white as the numbers are. The last few years seem to show a large dysfunction behind the scenes for the Cubs. Whispers have been that there are factions in the clubhouse. These were allowed to develop during the Lou Piniella years and it's hard to know how much success Mike Quade had at squashing that kind of problem. Even if all this speculation is hooey, there is a culture of losing in Wrigley that can only be washed out by letting some of the most entrenched players move along. It simply is time for Aramis Ramirez to move along.
Of course there are drawbacks for the Cubs in allowing Ramirez to leave. Third base was a virtual wasteland for MLB last year and there won't be any great shakes for third basemen on the market this winter either. Oh, perhaps the Cubs could pry David Wright from the Mets, but he's a worse defender at third than Ramirez, though he is younger and could presumably replace whatever offense is lost by Ramirez's departure. And there are not exactly a plethora of minor league replacements either.
But sometimes a team has to make additions by subtraction. And that philosophy seems to apply here with the Cubs losing Aramis Ramirez. It's time for the Cubs to move in different directions. Ramirez, meanwhile, has probably cost himself a few million in pocket change. Will any team seriously give him $16 million for his services in 2012? It seems highly unlikely. It seems even unlikelier for any team to offer him that kind of money long term considering his recent injury history and the fact that he will be 34 for the 2012 season. It seemed more in the third baseman's interest to get max value for one more season before having to settle for what he could get from 2013 forward. It will be interesting to see what he gets for offers.
As for the Cubs, a good move and a smart play by the new chiefs in town.