For months, when his opinion wasn’t vacillating wildly about whether or not he would approve a trade, Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez was telling anyone who would listen how much he loved Chicago. He wanted to stay with the Cubs forever, and there retire in blissful surrender some day down the road.
But that was before Jim Hendry got the boot. Did that change Ramirez’s opinion?
“We’ve got to step back and look at everything,’’ Ramirez’s agent Barry Kinzer said of the change in the Cubs’ front office. ‘‘At this point, it was pretty much a slam dunk [Ramirez would return]. It would have taken something serious for us to move on. We have to see what’s going on there — not only with the GM, but with the manager and everything else.”
‘‘For him to leave would be a big deal,’’ Kinzer continued. ‘‘I think he’s probably going to at least look now and see what’s out there.”
The Cubs hold a $16 million option on Ramirez for 2012 (with a $2 million buyout), but, if the Cubs exercise it, he can void his agreement and forfeit the option (in other words, he is no longer entitled to the $2 million buyout). Given that structure, Ramirez’s advancing age, and the fact that he would easily be the top third baseman on the market should he become a free agent, Ramirez was probably always going to “at least look … and see what’s out there.”
Of course, the most curious part of this turn: if Ramirez no longer wants to remain in Chicago, can the Cubs flip him in the next week in a waiver deal? Even if the Cubs could put together a deal, it’s not likely they would do it without being overwhelmed. Ramirez is likely just posturing, and wants to see what the new regime brings to the table. In turn, Tom Ricketts isn’t going to be eager to approve a deal sending Ramirez away when the next GM might have wanted to make nice with Aramis.
Ultimately, Ramirez probably remains the Cubs’ best option for third base in 2012. Neither Josh Vitters nor DJ LeMahieu is making an aggressive push to take over the job next year, and few believe Ryan Flaherty can be a Major League regular at third. The free agent market beyond Ramirez is weak, and counting on a trade is poor planning. Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker could theoretically platoon at third, but I’m not sure that idea knocks anyone’s socks off.
So, exercising Ramirez’s option is probably the best, er, option. If he plans to void that option if the Cubs won’t give him a two or three year extension, however, it might be time to start thinking about alternatives, however unattractive they may be.