Some things to think about as we head into 2012

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The winter meetings were relatively quiet for the Cubs, much to the chagrin of Cubs fans everywhere.  Part of that is due to the changes in the MLB collective bargaining agreement, and probably the bulk of it is due to the terrible shape the franchise is in, so trades won’t be as fruitful and free agent signings might not help all that much.  So let’s do a reset and see where we go from here.  Also, we have to eventually bump Maria’s hawt pic off the featured articles box…hehe.

Aramis Ramirez Leaves The Cubs

We’ve written about the oft-maligned third baseman before, but people continue to complain about Aramis Ramirez because he decided to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers.  In between Prince Fielder all-but-guaranteed to leave the Brew Crew and Ryan Braun possibly facing a suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, the Brewers were probably pressured into signing the best available remaining bat.  I do not fault Aramis for taking the money.  If he had accepted the Cubs’ offer, that’s $16MM for one season, but now he’s getting $34MM+ for three seasons, possibly with a fourth season on a mutual option for more money.  Had he tanked in 2012, that would likely have been his last big payday, but now he has more overall money and security over the next few years.  Tell me honestly that you wouldn’t want that kind of job security?

Somehow just signing Aramis means the scales have tipped in the Brewers’ favor, but considering that they won the NL Central this past season, the scales weren’t exactly tipped against them anyway.  The issue is, as previously stated, whether Aramis can carry enough of the offensive load to offset the loss of Fielder (and maybe Braun) while not sucking on defense enough so the Brewers’ pitching can prevent enough runs to amass 90 or so wins.  The St. Louis Cardinals may have lost Albert Pujols to the Angels, but they are also getting Adam Wainwright back and the rest of their lineup is pretty formidable.  I foresee the Brewers, Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds battling for the division as they’ve done in the past few seasons.

The fact is that Aramis is a horrible baserunner and a less-than-average defender, but that bat overcomes his faults in a huge way.  His splits do support the narrative that he starts slow, but when he’s on, he is way on, and the Cubs appreciated that bat in 2003, 2007 and 2008.  As the best Cubs third baseman since Ron Santo and Bill Madlock, we should appreciate Aramis for all he’s done for this club, and while we hope he goes 0-for-200 when he plays the Cubs, we hope he does well for the remainder of his career.

Koyie Hill Loses His Job

The Cubs also lost their resident shop teacher and gritty hearty backup catcher, Koyie Hill as the team elected not to tender a contract to him.  We should appreciate Koyie’s performance sitting in for Geovany Soto, who was fat and sucked in 2009, but Koyie doesn’t belong on a MLB roster and could probably be more useful as a bullpen catcher or even a coach.  Getting rid of Koyie means that the Cubs will have a marginally better offense, and will allow guys like Welington Castillo or Steve Clevenger to come up and take over the backup role.  Good luck in whatever you decide to do next, Koyie.

The Other Guys Get Arbitration Offers

Six Cubs did not suffer the fate of Koyie Hill.  Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, Ian Stewart, and Randy Wells were all arbitration eligible and all received offers from the Cubs.  My hope is that Baker and DeWitt sucked so bad that they’ll each make under $1.5MM in arbitration, or the Cubs will settle with them to keep costs down.  The expensive guys will probably be Garza, who could get a raise to around $8-10MM, and Soto, who should get around a $5MM payday.  Stewart and Wells might get around $2-3MM each.  It seems that the hot corner vacated by Aramis Ramirez will be manned by a platoon of Baker and Stewart, with DeWitt maybe getting some of the playing time.  The Cubs probably plan to use Garza as their ace to build around as they figure out the rebuild/retooling project.  All of these players have multiple years of club control left and could be attractive trade pieces should the Cubs decide to go that route; if not, they’ll at least be less expensive than free agent counterparts.

What About Fat Bastard?

Prince Fielder is still on the market.  There have been some discussions on whether it’s even a good idea to sign Fielder, but the fact is that when you look at who is available in the free agent position player pool after this offseason, nobody is really as impressive as Fielder.  The Cubs have a pretty difficult decision.  They have tons of money available (allegedly anyway), but they also have various holes in the lineup to fill and the question of who will protect Fielder in the lineup is not easily answered.  They could try to protect Fielder with Geovany Soto, but Soto is somewhat inconsistent despite his good eye and plate discipline.  It’s difficult to see how signing Fielder will help the Cubs short-term when he will be pitched around, and longer term, he’s going to get older, possibly fatter, and his production will decline.

The Obstructed View guys have a pretty good analysis of how much Fielder is worth.  I actually think that the initial WAR estimate is a bit conservative, and Fielder will do pretty well in 2012 especially if he were in a hitters’ park like Wrigley Field.  The point is that you don’t want to overpay for a guy who sucks at defense, is slow, and whose only asset is his ability to destroy baseballs (which is a pretty good skill to have, don’t get me wrong).  Pujols got around $25MM a year for ten years, but he’s an entirely different player from Fielder.  I don’t think it makes sense to pay Fielder as much as Pujols, and even using the Ryan Howard contract as a model is erroneous because there was no way most GMs would have given Howard that much money.  I think somewhere between $20-22MM per year for six years is probably what the Cubs should offer.  Since the Brewers took themselves out of the running, and the Marlins are unlikely to give Fielder the same courtship as they did with Pujols, the market is down to the Cubs and a couple of other fringe teams such as the Texas Rangers (who aren’t desperate), the Seattle Mariners (wut) and maybe the Toronto Blue Jays.  The good news is that the Cubs probably know that they aren’t going to seriously contend in 2012 so they aren’t desperate either. Thus they can probably wait out the market until Scott Boras realizes that Fielder probably won’t get a 10-year offer.

The trick will be to figure out how long to wait, and whether the Cubs can convince Fielder to participate in a one- or two-year rebuild before he can hope to contend again.  If the Cubs can surround Fielder with some solid on-base guys, it might work out okay until the team can be solidified.  You never know in baseball.

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