Monday, Sept. 26, 2011Posted: 11:00 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
SAN DIEGO Whether they wanted to admit it or not, the Cubs knew that this day was coming. All they had to do was look at the big board.
Aramis Ramirez hoped his strong relationship with Jim Hendry would help him get the contract extension that would keep him in Chicago. But Hendrys firing blew up almost every assumption about the way the Cubs do business.
Theres no doubt that Ramirez is a businessman, a professional who never seemed to care whether or not he was embraced by the fans, or wonder why he was heavily criticized in certain segments of the media.
You got to ask them, Ramirez said. I dont know. I just show up and play. Thats all I can do.
So once the next general manager moves into his new office at Clark and Addison, he will scan the wall listing every player in the organization and almost certainly see an opening at third base.
Ramirez wont get a statue outside Wrigley Field, but he solidified the position and anchored the heart of the lineup since the middle of the 2003 season (at least when he was healthy).
Ramirez continues to treat a quad injury, and if he doesnt play again for this team, he will leave with 238 homers and 805 RBI in a Cubs uniform.
He who will turn 34 next season and understands that he will be able to command a big multi-year deal because the free-agent market for third basemen will be filled with utility-type players; no one who can match his offensive firepower.
So the Cubs may be forced to look for internal solutions. They could mix-and-match with Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt and the next wave of prospects, which includes DJ LeMahieu, Josh Vitters and Ryan Flaherty.
I dont really put too much stock or too much worry into whats going to happen, just because its so irrelevant now, Baker said. No one knows anything, from coaches to players. Theres a lot of stuff that they have to address.
Baker believes that he can play every day and would love to prove that hes more than someone who just crushes left-handed pitching. DeWitt has proven to be a nice player off the bench, but he isnt a naturally gifted defender.
It wouldnt be surprising if the Cubs decided to focus more on run prevention. It will be difficult to replace the 25 homers and 92 RBI Ramirez accounted for at that position.
Answers could begin forming in the Arizona Fall League, where LeMahieu and Vitters will try to get a jump on 2012. LeMahieu, a second-round pick out of Louisiana State University, became the first player from Chicagos 2009 draft class to reach the majors.
LeMahieu a smooth defender who should develop a more powerful swing as he fills out his 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound frame has impressed many in the organization with the way he carries himself.
Ive always prided myself on being confident, LeMahieu said, and mentally focused and prepared when you get called on. Ive been in big situations before, playing in the College World Series in front of big crowds. (Im) used to it (and) that helped me a lot.
The Cubs have been waiting for Vitters to show that kind of growth. In fairness, the kid hadnt even turned 18 yet when they made him the third overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Now 22, Vitters responded by hitting .283 with 14 homers and 81 RBI in 129 games at Double-A Tennessee. Its unclear how hell project as a defender. Theres talk he might play some outfield.
Vitters was roommates with top prospect Brett Jackson and the two were seemingly inseparable during spring training. Jackson, who played his college ball at Berkeley, is polished and driven and confident.
Special assistant Dave Keller, who used to be the organizations minor-league hitting coordinator, has worked extensively with both prospects. The hope is that Vitters learned something.
Every year is big year for a guy when youre a No. 1 pick, because everybody has so many high expectations, Keller said. Bretts personality can hopefully rub off on Josh a little bit to help Josh understand that urgency part of it. Because all Brett wants to do is be a great player up here.
Their time may not come next season. But Ramirez and the Cubs are prepared to move on. Everyone who wanted him gone at the trade deadline will find out its not that easy to replace him.
Reporters will miss Ramirez because he can be brutally honest. The detachment that seemed to bother fans will mean no hard feelings, no bitterness. Its just business.
Youre never going to make everybody happy, Ramirez said. Theres always going to be people that dont think youre a 1 million player. Theres always going to be people that dont think youre a 100,000 player. It doesnt matter who you are.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.