Chicago Cubs

How will the Cubs replace Aramis Ramirez?

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How will the Cubs replace Aramis Ramirez?

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.

Stop asking if the Cubs are back, they need to make their own momentum — like they did Sunday

Stop asking if the Cubs are back, they need to make their own momentum — like they did Sunday

Stop asking if the Cubs are back.

That’s been a season-long talking point every time something that seems big at the time happens, constant wonder over what can snap the Cubs out of it and get them back to their expected place of dominating the division and looking like a World Series contender.

But it’s been pretty plain up to this point that one game hasn’t made that drastic difference fans are looking for.

All those “Cubs back?” inquiries have only been met with the same kind of play that’s kept the team middling all season. Flashes of brilliance have come and gone, and still the Cubs turned in a sub-.500 first half and remain just a few games ahead of their division rivals from Milwaukee and St. Louis.

So it’s time to stop wondering if every big win will lead to the Cubs turning on the jets and blasting away from the Brewers and Cardinals.

If the Cubs are going to get the kind of momentum required to do that, they’re going to need to make it themselves. Just like they did Sunday.

The Cubs beat the visiting Toronto Blue Jays and completed their first three-game series sweep in a month, their first since that six-game win streak out of the All-Star break with back-to-back broom breakouts in Baltimore and Atlanta. (For those appreciative of technicalities, yes, the Cubs won both games in the road half of the Crosstown matchup with the White Sox.)

But it was the way they did it Sunday, coughing up a 3-0 lead, coughing up two runs in the top of 10th, only to score three times in the bottom of that extra inning, winning on a walk-off base hit by one of the new guys, Alex Avila.

Did it mean that the Cubs are back? Did it mean this is the start of something great? What did it mean?

“That we’re a good team, I guess,” Avila said. “There are certain times over the course of the year when you’re a team that’s trying to get to the playoffs, you’ve got to win crazy games like that, games you should win.

“For me, momentum depends on the next guy that’s pitching, to be honest with you. If (John Lackey) goes out Tuesday and throws a good game and gives us an opportunity, then you can say that. But for me, once the game’s over it’s over, and the next game is something completely different.”

Sunday’s game was far from pretty. The Cubs benefitted from a pair of dropped third strikes in that 10th inning, including one where Blue Jays catcher Raffy Lopez plum forgot to throw to first, allowing Javy Baez to reach. Baez scored the game-winning run two batters later, sliding in ahead of the throw on Avila’s hit.

This time last year, the Cubs had a double-digit lead in the National League Central standings. After this sweep, you still need just one hand’s worth of fingers to add up their current division lead. This clearly isn’t last year. But Sunday’s win did have a little bit of that 2016 feel to it.

“The way the boys grinded at the end was awesome, definitely reminiscent of last year somewhat” starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s where we’ve got to get to, we’ve just got to be who we are right now. And hopefully that’s the team we can be now, maybe even progress beyond that. But yeah that was huge. Kept on fighting, even late in that game, and found a way to win that one.”

That’s not to say, though, that 2017’s problems didn’t pop up. The Cubs were just 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They gathered just four hits the remainder of the game after Albert Almora Jr.’s bases-clearing double with nobody out in the third inning. The bullpen could hardly be described as lock-down, with Justin Wilson adding two more walks to his struggle of a portfolio since joining the Cubs, Wade Davis also walking two batters and Koji Uehara charged with the two runs in the 10th that put the Blue Jays on top.

But listen to Joe Maddon and look elsewhere.

Those “little things” that everyone is always so fond of telling you make the difference in championship seasons? They were there Sunday, chiefly in the form of Baez’s 10th-inning hustle, which first got him to first base on that dropped third strike and later allowed him to score from second on the game-winning base knock.

“Javy runs hard,” Maddon said. “For those who ever want to criticize this guy, that’s a ball in the dirt, about 15 feet away from the catcher, the catcher just blanked out on it. If Javy does not run hard right there, it’s a different result. He ran hard, and that’s why he was safe because by the time Lopez figured it out, he had already beaten it to first base.

“All those little diminutae like that, that’s the difference between winning and losing. Everybody’s going to look at Alex’s hit. Great. It was a big moment. But Javy striking out and not just sulking, runs to first base.

“This is the nuance of the game,” Maddon continued, moving on to the lead Baez got at second base ahead of Avila’s hit. “Guys that get good (secondary leads). The way I’ve always described that in spring training when you have your base-running meeting is that you’re being a great teammates when you get a good secondary lead because it leads to moments like that. … You’re being a great teammate when you understand the importance of getting good secondary leads.”

Maybe the spark that’s been so intensely looked for all season isn’t one singular highlight-reel win but a collection of plays over the course of a few games. All three of these wins against the Blue Jays were one-run victories. Little things make the difference in such tight games. They make the difference in such tight division races, too.

One game and one sweep against a last-place team gets the Cubs nowhere close to out of the woods. A playoff spot is hardly a certainty in such a closely contested Central. And for as potentially momentum-building as this weekend series might have seemed, remember the Blue Jays are a last-place team. The Cincinnati Reds, both the team the Cubs played prior to the Blue Jays and the team they’ll play next, and the Philadelphia Phillies, the second stop on next week’s road trip, are also last-place teams.

The Cubs should be winning these games. You could just as easily argue that Sunday’s game was a troubling sign. Why should the Cubs need two dropped third strikes in the 10th inning to get them a win against a last-place team? Valid question.

But if you heard the racket coming out of the Cubs’ celebration room, you might be convinced otherwise.

Is momentum real? To this point, it hasn’t been for the 2017 Cubs. But with the schedule at an easy point, maybe it becomes real soon. They just have to make it.

“We want to get on a good roll,” Almora said. “This series is great, it’s a great start. We’ve been playing well since the All-Star break, so we feel really good as a team. Pitchers coming together, offense coming together. It’s great.”

“A really good team, once you’ve won the series with one left, c’mon. This is when you really want to make some hay at that point, you just don’t want to concede anything,” Maddon said. “Getting three out of three makes a difference moving forward.”

Watch: Cubs complete extra-inning comeback with walk-off hit to sweep Blue Jays

Watch: Cubs complete extra-inning comeback with walk-off hit to sweep Blue Jays

Sunday's Cubs-Blue Jays game had a little bit of everything.

There was Miguel Montero's home run against his former team to tie the game, a crazy catch against the wall by Kevin Pillar and that doesn't even include the 10th inning, which was on its own level of bizarre.

Pillar put the Blue Jays ahead with a single in the top of the 10th and then Justin Wilson walked the first two batters he faced to extend Toronto's lead to 5-3.

Then things got real weird.

Kyle Schwarber reached to lead off the inning despite striking out. He reached on a wild pitch third strike.

Later in the inning, after Schwarber had come around to score and cut the lead to 5-4, Javy Baez also reached on a dropped third strike. Catcher Raffy Lopez decided not to throw to first with the tying run, Ben Zobrist, at third base.

The Blue Jays' implosion continued when Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch after falling down 0-2 in the count. That loaded the bases and set the stage for Alex Avila to do this:

That wrapped up a series sweep for the Cubs.