Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011Posted: 5:45 p.m. Updated: 7:38 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
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READ: Quade acts like he doesn't feel the heat
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READWATCH: It's "probably" the end for Cubs, Ramirez
WATCH: Garza was set on finishing the game
WATCH: Castro really hoping to get his 200th hit at home
WATCH: Pena likes the talent in Cubs clubhouse
The Cubs packed duffle bags and taped up boxes to ship back home. It was the perfect image for a franchise in transition. No one knows what's going to happen next.
As promised, the Cubs passed the three-million mark in attendance during the final home game of 2011. Who's going to make you buy tickets to Wrigley Field next season?
What you watched during Wednesday's 7-1 win over the Brewers was a changing of the guard. Starlin Castro received a standing ovation as he reached 199 hits, while Matt Garza threw a complete game that showed why he could be your Opening Day starter.
Around the same time, interim general manager Randy Bush met with Paul Kinzer, the agent for Aramis Ramirez. The third baseman hadn't heard anything to this point about how the Cubs would approach a 16 million option for 2012. The expectation is that Ramirez would void it anyway and become a free agent seeking at least a three-year deal.
"The chances to come back here don't look pretty good right now," Ramirez said.
It looks even worse for Carlos Zambrano, who had already cleared out his locker weeks ago. It became a storage area for footballs and an equipment bag, then a locker split by two minor-league staffers before Triple-A Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason took it over.
Tom Ricketts is already on record saying that he'd have a hard time picturing Zambrano pitching for this team again. The chairman will have to sit down with the next general manager to figure out what to do about the 18 million Zambrano is owed next season.
"That's well out of my hands and the least of my worries," manager Mike Quade said. "I'd like his arm back if he fit into the mix. But it would be tough for him to come back - for me. If he did, then I deal with it."
Carlos Pena - who's also positioned to become a free agent but would prefer to stay in Chicago - said he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach knowing this could potentially be his final game at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform.
Ramirez isn't wired that way, calling the day different, not sad. He didn't make an emotional connection with the fans. But he quietly showed leadership behind the scenes, particularly among the Latin players.
"Big time," said Castro, an All-Star at 21. "He (taught) me how you want to play the game."
Garza seemed offended by Quade's idea of competition in the eighth inning. The manager told his pitcher not to swing, so that he wouldn't hit into a double play, and rob Castro of another chance to get his 200th hit at home. Garza grounded out before Castro walked.
"I'm trying to hit, too," Garza said afterward. "Shoot, I want 20 wins. I want 200 innings. I want 200-plus strikeouts. It is what it is, man. (I'm) going to go out there and compete. I'm not just going to give up.
"I know (Castro) has six more games to get it and I'm pretty sure he's going to do it. That's all I got to say about that. Anything else?"
There's no doubt that Garza has an edge, but he's pretty much answered all the questions about how he would handle a bigger market, the Wrigley Field fishbowl. He gave up one unearned run and struck out 10, improving to 9-10 and lowering his ERA to 3.35.
"His record doesn't show the reality of how good he has performed," Pena said. "Imagine what would happen if (things) were to click and go his way? The possibilities are just endless. In my mind, he's a Cy Young pitcher waiting to happen."
Ramirez - who also doesn't care what the media thinks - probably won't be around to see it. Even if he wasn't embraced by the fans, he put up six seasons of at least 25 homers and 30 doubles, just like Hall of Famer Billy Williams.
"My dad always told me that the worst mistake you can ever make is trying to make everybody happy," Ramirez said.
The Cubs will have to make a series of hard decisions across the next several weeks that will impact every level of the organization. They can't keep everyone. They can't worry about winning the press conference. They can't appease every faction of a skeptical fan base.
It could mean writing several huge checks to get rid of Zambrano. Ramirez seems resigned to finding money and happiness elsewhere.
"I can't be here for a rebuilding process," he said. "I'm not that kind of player anymore."
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.