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.

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

MESA, Ariz. – The pitching section of The Cubs Way manual might not be spelled out this way, but it can be summed up in five words: Have 'em work with Boz.

Or at least that's how it sounds whenever the Cubs add another fading prospect or injury case, rolling the dice on raw stuff, change-of-scenery psychology and the wizardry of pitching coach Chris Bosio.

While the Theo Epstein administration is still waiting on the drafted-and-developed pitchers to put around the Wrigley Field marquee next to the images of sluggers Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs already have the infrastructure in place that helped turn Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and transform Kyle Hendricks into an ERA leader.

One of Bosio's ongoing projects is Brett Anderson, who underwent surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back last March, yet another injury in a career that hasn't lived up to his own expectations.

"It's one of those things where he's not trying to reinvent the wheel," Anderson said. "It's more trying to limit the pressure on my back and mild mechanical adjustments where I don't land on my heel as much and kind land on the ball of my foot or my toes, so it's not such a whiplash effect.

"He's had a good track record with health, especially the last couple years, and hopefully I can fall in line there, too."

Anderson made it through his first Cactus League outing, throwing a scoreless first inning during Monday's 4-4 tie with the White Sox in front of another sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Cubs are taking a calculated risk here with a one-year, $3.5 million that could max out with $6.5 million more in incentives if Anderson makes 29 starts this season.

[MORE CUBS: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic]

The Cubs can put the best defensive unit in the majors behind a lefty groundball pitcher and don't need to make a dramatic overhaul with a guy who grew up around the game. Anderson's father, Frank, is an assistant at the University of Houston and the former head coach at Oklahoma State University.

"I've been going to the field since I could walk and talk and annoy college kids," Anderson said. "I could take that one of two ways: I could get burnt out quick and kind of shy away from baseball. Or I could eat it up. Fortunately for me, I've eaten it up all the way through."

The entire question with Anderson revolves around health. He won 11 games for the Oakland A's in 2009 – finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – and hasn't topped that number since. There's been a Tommy John surgery and disabled-list time for a stress fracture in his right foot, a broken left index finger and a separate surgery on his lower back.

"If you dwell on the negative, you're going to worry yourself sick," Anderson said. "Pitching's fun – good, bad or indifferent – (so) you have to have a positive outlook, because otherwise you just walk around with a black cloud over your head."

The only other time Anderson hit the 30-start mark would be 2015, when he threw a career-high 180.1 innings, put up a 3.69 ERA and led the majors with a 66.7 groundball percentage. He couldn't repeat that performance with the Los Angeles Dodgers, accounting for 11.1 innings last year and not making the roster in either playoff round.

The "hybrid" fifth/sixth starter idea manager Joe Maddon floated sounds good in theory and we'll see how it works with Anderson and Mike Montgomery and a veteran rotation with strong opinions and clear ideas about routines. But the Dodgers needed 15 different starting pitchers to survive the 162-game marathon last year and seemed to run out of gas by the time the National League Championship Series returned to Wrigley Field.

"You can't have too much depth coming from where I was last year in L.A.," Anderson said. "We used so many starters. Obviously, that wasn't really the case here, which you can't really bank on year in and year out. But if I'm healthy, everything else will work itself out and I'll take my chances.”

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

MESA, Ariz. – During an escalating prank war, Ryan Dempster once arranged for a camera crew to shadow Will Ohman in spring training and sell the journeyman reliever on being the star in a TV special.

But Dempster isn't trying to punk anyone by playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic – even though he's almost 40 years old and hasn't pitched in a competitive environment since Game 1 of the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park.

Don't let the Harry Caray/Will Ferrell impersonations fool you. Dempster always had a different side to his personality, an edge that allowed him to recover from Tommy John surgery, transition from 30-save closer back to All-Star starter and throw nearly 2,400 innings in The Show.

Still, it sort of felt like a reality show or a time machine or a spin-off from a Kris Bryant Red Bull ad on Monday at Field 1, the most secluded spot to throw live batting practice at the Sloan Park complex. On a cool, gray day, Dempster looked the same with his reddish beard, glove waggle, white pinstriped pants and blue Nike cleats.

Before stepping into the batter's box, Cubs president Theo Epstein tried to talk a little trash with Dempster: "I know I can't hit big-league pitching, but I'll see if I can hit you."

Besides Epstein, the eclectic group of hitters included Tommy La Stella and minor-leaguer Todd Glaesmann. Dempster threw roughly 50 pitches to Lance Rymel, a former farm-system catcher who will manage a Dominican summer league team this year. The audience included one reporter, six fans, a group of curious Cubs staffers and reliever Jim Henderson, who is in camp on a minor-league deal and will also pitch for Team Canada.

"I'm not going to be disrespectful to the whole process," Dempster said. "I'm not just like playing in a beer league and then decide: 'Eh, I'll throw against the Dominican team. The U.S. looks like they're pretty stacked, but I'll be all right.' I know what it entails going into this.

"At the end of the day, I'm not so worried about velocity. I'm worried about command and my ability to change speeds. It has been pretty funny to see the reactions, and I can understand why people would see it as far-fetched. But I always liked a good challenge."

Dempster first hatched this idea during a Fourth of July vacation, somewhere around Sequoia National Park in California. The group included Ted Lilly – another pitcher who got by with guts and became a special assistant in Epstein's front office – and former bullpen catcher Corey Miller.

"I just said: 'For old times' sake, why don't I throw a side?'" Dempster recalled. "I thought for sure when I woke up the next day I wouldn't be able to lift my arm up. And it felt really good."

Dempster continued with a throwing program – even through a trip to Hawaii after the World Series – and contacted Greg Hamilton, the head coach and director of Baseball Canada. As a Cub, Dempster had been the one leading runs up Camelback Mountain and showing younger pitchers like Jeff Samardzija how to train for 200 innings.

"I wasn't sure if he was serious or not," said Epstein, who did make contact against Dempster. "And then when I figured out he meant it and had a plan, I knew he'd be fine, because he's such a hard worker and he's really smart. If he's going to put the time in to get ready, I knew he'd be fine. He'll be competitive, for sure."

Dempster understood how to put together his own program with a focus on his legs, strengthening his core and shoulder exercises. To be clear, this isn't setting the stage for a comeback, the way game-over closer Eric Gagne is hoping to use Team Canada as a launching pad (after not pitching in the big leagues since 2008).

"This is just a chance to represent my country," said Dempster, who grew up in British Columbia and played on junior national teams in the 1990s. "Sometimes – I'm not bored – but a challenge in life or an opportunity presents itself. (And) it's a good lesson to teach my kids: If you work hard at something, you can do (it) and hopefully it pays off."

Dempster went out on top as a World Series champion, walking away from $13.25 million rather than pitch for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. He signed on with MLB Network and rejoined the Cubs as a special assistant in baseball operations. If he had to pick a lane, it would probably be entertainment and building off his Cubs Convention late-night format and sketches like "The Newlywed Game" with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

But Dempster still needs a fix. The star-studded cast from the Dominican Republic – Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz – will be waiting on March 9 at Marlins Park.

"Major League Baseball, professional sports aren't a normal job," Dempster said. "How do you go from that extreme high, the adrenaline rush of going out there and pitching in front of 40-grand every day to…now what do you do that satisfies you? I'm trying to find that, make my way towards that. I feel like I will eventually get there."