Brewers strike back by signing Aramis Ramirez

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Brewers strike back by signing Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez was positioned as the Plan B option for any team that missed out on Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder and still wanted some presence in the middle of their lineup.

Ramirez says whats on his mind. He knows exactly who he is. He wont be bothered by the comparisons to Fielder, or the criticism if he doesnt live up to that. Hes simply a professional hitter.

It was always just business for Ramirez, who got what he wanted in this deal a three-year contract reportedly worth around 36 million money, security and the chance to play for a contender. He cant replace Fielder, but it would be wrong to process Mondays news and completely dismiss the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Brewers are still a team built to win now, even with Fielder chasing a 200 million megadeal in free agency and Ryan Braun facing a potential 50-game suspension for a failed drug test. They have an aggressive owner in Mark Attanasio, and a creative front office that built a 96-game division winner last season. They act bigger than their small market.

The Brewers still have their five starters under club control for 2012: Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson. Each made at least 28 starts and won 11 or more games last season.

The Cubs dont have that kind of rotation, which is one reason why Ramirez, who will turn 34 next season, no longer fit into their plans. The third baseman declined his end of a 16 million option, and an arbitration offer, which means the Cubs will receive draft-pick compensation.

Last week at the winter meetings before the Los Angeles Angels emerged as the mystery team Theo Epstein was asked about the potential landscape of the National League Central without Fielder or Pujols. The answer made it clear that the Cubs first have to get their house in order.

Theres a lot of work to do here, Epstein said. Theres a pretty big gap between where we are now and where we want to go, both at the major-league level and as an organization more broadly.

If we start tracking whether an opposing team might be a 91-win team or a 96-win team, (then) thats probably not the best use of our time. We need to try to build our operation up to a point where we feel pretty good about consistently delivering a team thats going to be a strong playoff contender.

There will always be good teams in this division. I think its an underrated division, whether or not these impact bats stay or go. If they go, those teams are going to have more draft picks and more resources available to them to improve the rest of their club.

If they stay, those guys are tough to get out. Either way, I dont think its going to impact what were trying to do.

The Cubs will try to rebuild without Ramirez, who has six 100-plus RBI seasons on his resume and showed more leadership than you would have thought behind the scenes.

Among Cubs third basemen all-time, only Ron Santo (337) has more home runs than Ramirez (239), who won a Silver Slugger award last season.

There was also the body language, which often came up on sports radio and talk shows and seemed to distance Ramirez from Cubs fans.

To fight that perception, Ramirez spoke extensively with Angels manager Mike Scioscia before the Pujols deal went down, and impressed Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick when the Philadelphia Phillies made a recent scouting trip to the Dominican Republic.

Ramirez should enjoy hitting at Miller Park, where hes generated 15 homers and 62 RBI in 78 career games. It will be weird for Brewers fans to see Fielder in another uniform, and someone other than Braun playing left field. But this was a move to try to stay in the playoff picture.

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The San Francisco Giants had been three outs away from forcing an elimination game that Johnny Cueto would have started at Wrigley Field – and five different relievers couldn’t protect a three-run lead against a Cubs team that made a stunning comeback.

That October crash reverberated throughout the winter meetings as a $10 billion industry gathered outside Washington, D.C. The Giants bought peace of mind for the ninth inning on Monday and finalized a four-year, $62 million deal with Mark Melancon. For the moment, that will be the biggest contract ever for a closer, at least until Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman shatter that record.

The Cubs have been in contact with Jansen’s camp, sources said, monitoring his market to see if there might be a match as the World Series champs try to upgrade the bullpen this week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t necessarily have a singular focus – believe the reports linking the Cubs to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis – or the appetite to win a Jansen bidding war that will include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins and perhaps the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

But after telling everyone that they did two offseasons in one last winter – and spending almost $290 million on free agents – this is where the Cubs could make a splash.

“It’s safe to say we’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available,” general manager Jed Hoyer said during his briefing with the Chicago media. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bats. We’re spending a lot of times on arms. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to sort of be in on and talking about.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon watched Jansen’s cutter up close and gave this endorsement during the National League Championship Series: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera.”

Jansen, a homegrown Dodger, converted from catcher and developed into an elite closer, saving 189 games while putting up a 2.20 career ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jansen just turned 29 and already showed a willingness to pitch outside the ninth inning and go for more than three outs, something that didn’t come easily for Chapman in an October where former Yankee teammate Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP for the Cleveland Indians.

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“The postseason was reliever-centric,” Hoyer said. “Bullpens have always been really valuable, but I think the way they were used and talked about – really, not even this postseason, but the last two or three postseasons – people are definitely putting a lot of financial importance on having a good bullpen.”

Kansas City’s blueprint for winning back-to-back pennants and the 2015 World Series featured Davis, who posted a 0.94 ERA during that championship season. But Davis dealt with a strained right forearm this year and will make $10 million in his final season before free agency, at a time when the Royals can begin to see their window to contend closing.

The Cubs haven’t made Chapman a priority – and Epstein’s group has been philosophically opposed to the idea of investing big money in a closer – but they also know they probably don’t get that parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue without that blockbuster deal with the Yankees.

“We see the value of it,” Hoyer said. “Look, we traded a great young prospect in Gleyber Torres to get Chapman, because we felt like that was an area that we were a little bit short. We felt like in order to win the World Series, we had to have that kind of guy at the end of the game. It proved to be right.

“In order to get those really difficult final outs in the postseason, having an elite guy is certainly a huge advantage.”

So if the White Sox become the Chicago team that makes most of the headlines here – and in-house options like Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop disappoint – the Cubs can always reassess at the trade deadline.

“We’ll bolster our bullpen,” Hoyer said. “Whether you do that by adding just a number of good relievers – or whether we do it by adding a guy that’s sort of a known closer – I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely add to our bullpen.”