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.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”