Ahoy and good riddance

The word came down today, not from the player himself but through his agent, that Aramis Ramirez won’t be coming back to the Cubs. The actual term that his agent used was “that ship has sailed.” And that’s music to this Cubs fan’s ears.

Ramirez first came to the Cubs in 2003–that year again–and unlike all the others from that team, he has stuck around ever since. He did play well in the 2003 playoffs, but he wasn’t a leader on the team. Anything that the Cubs got from him that year was an unexpected bonus, really.

The 2006 team–which was Dusty Baker’s final year in Chicago–was brutally bad. Ramirez wasn’t quite a leader on that team, either, but he was in a contract year, so he put up the best numbers of his career offensively. He got his big payday from the Cubs (he’s now in the $16 million range annually) and hasn’t put up anywhere near the same numbers since.

Worse, though, was his complete disappearance from the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. He was a leader on the team, due to his experience and his salary, and he completely fell on his face when it counted. If you want a reason for why the Cubs went a combined 0-6 in the playoffs for those two years, look no further than Aramis Ramirez. He downed a bagel with an 0-12 showing in the 2007 loss to the Diamondbacks, and then bulked up to a .182/.250/.273 performance against the Dodgers in 2008.  And his regular season stats for those two years didn’t matter nearly so much.

This year’s All-Star game was another telling moment. Ramirez was offered a spot on the team to represent the Cubs, but he turned it down. I can understand wanting to be with your family, but baseball–and the Cubs in particular–have been more than good to Ramirez over the years. Turning down a chance that only a few players will ever get to have left a strong impression in my mind about what matters to him. And baseball and the Cubs aren’t it.

So he says–or at least his agent does–that he wants a ring. The implication is that he won’t get one in Chicago, but many in these parts thought that 2008 was the year, at long last. And Ramirez and four other everyday players (Edmonds, Soto, Fukudome, and Soriano) couldn’t break .200 for the playoff series against the Dodgers. He should look in a mirror if he wants to know what went wrong in the postseason that year.

Ramirez is widely considered to be the premier free-agent third baseman on the market this year. But I would advise whoever wants to commit three or four years and tens of millions of dollars to him to look at his track record. Wrigley is widely thought of as a hitter’s park, and that has padded his numbers a bit over the years.  In the 2010 season–the year that drove Lou Piniella out of baseball–Ramirez didn’t break .200 until after the fourth of July. Does that make him worthless as a player? Of course not. But his final numbers for that season are deceiving.

The talk around the Cubs now is about “changing the culture” and paying for future performance, rather than past performance. And Ramirez’ exit from the team provides an excellent opportunity for both to happen.

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