It’s clear the Cubs could use more pop in the lineup.
Since leading the National League in home runs in 2004 (the Cubs finished second in MLB to the Yankees & White Sox who tied with 242 HR) Chicago’s seen a steady decline in its overall power numbers.
The threesome of Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano accounted for the lion’s share of home run production from 2007 until the band was broken up in 2010 with the trade of Lee to Atlanta. Aramis was gone a year later and Soriano appears out the door any day now.
From 2009 on the Cubs have had only two players aside from A-Ram, D-Lee and Soriano crack 20+ home runs in a season: Tyler Colvin with 20 (2010) and Carlos Pena with 28 (2011).
Not surprisingly, with Colvin and Pena departed by 2012 the Cubs had but one hitter surpass the 20 home run mark last season: Soriano with 32 HR. The next closest was Bryan LaHair with 16 HR.
The outlook for 2013, unfortunately, isn’t much better. With LaHair traded this offseason to Japan, and Soriano rumored to be headed elsewhere via trade, the Cubs are starved for power at the traditional power positions for an NL team.
Ideally you want your big boppers patrolling the corner outfield and the corner infield. As it stands, the Cubs’ outfield consists of David DeJesus and Nate Schierholtz–who combined for 15 HR last season–and a handful of light-hitting backups. So unless Ian Stewart and Louis Valbuena finally reach their potential, it’s basically Anthony Rizzo as the lone power threat at the corners.
Rizzo of course appears to be a lock to reach 20+ home runs for the foreseeable future. He hit 15 HR in 87-games last year, which projects out to roughly 30 bombs over a full season. And thankfully more muscle appears on the horizon.
- Starlin Castro could develop more power. His home run numbers have increased in each of his first three seasons: 3, 10, 14.
- Top prospect Jorge Soler, 20, has all the makings of a dynamic major league power hitter. At 6’3″, 205lbs he’s already displayed majestic power shots in the minor leagues; quickly earning the nickname ‘Soler Power’.
- Outfielder Albert Almora, 18, who was Chicago’s top-pick in the amateur draft last June, could potentially be a 20+ home run hitter.
- Shortstop Javier Baez, ranked the top prospect in the Midwest League this past season, has shown plenty of raw power.
- Brett Jackson still has a shot to be a power guy if his revamped swing this offseason pans out.
There are likely to be other prospects who will show power potential and it’s fair to assume the Cubs will eventually dip into the free agent market to land a slugger. My guess is that would most likely come to fruition next winter, although this offseason is far from over and it’s becoming more unpredictable by the day.
But while it’s nice to think about the Cubs’ power production looking upwards in the seasons to come, it’s worth remembering round-trippers don’t mean everything.
What better example than the world champion Giants? San Francisco not only hit 34 fewer home runs than the Cubs did last season, but ranked dead last in all of baseball with 103 dingers.
Pitching and defense have always been the staples of championship teams, but it couldn’t hurt the Cubs’ anemic offense to park a few more hits on Waveland and Sheffield next summer.
The Cubs are still searching for a starting third baseman in 2013 and there’s plenty of speculation as to who that player will be.
The bigger question, however, is how long before the Cubs find a long-term solution at third?
It took the Cubs 30-years to bridge the gap from Ron Santo to Aramis Ramirez…and 13-years to find Santo after Stan Hack. Next season marks the second campaign without A-Ram, who was a staple at the hot corner for nine-seasons.
History doesn’t appear to be on the Cubs side. But does that mean Chicago can’t close the gap more quickly that it has in years past?
Josh Vitters isn’t knocking the door down at Triple-A the way Team Theo would like him to. So perhaps one of the Cubs’ brightest prospects, shortstop Javier Baez, could make the transition to third and play alongside Starlin Castro in a season or two–although early indications of the move suggest otherwise.
Additionally, highly touted prospects Christian Villanueva (acquired in the Dempster trade) and Jurickson Profar could be the next Anthony Rizzo at third…or the next Gary Scott.
Either way, determining if the above prospects are the long-term solution will take precious time, possibly 2 or 3 more years.
And if the Cubs fail to develop a third baseman from within, they’ll be left to look via trade or free agency. But of course, you have to give to get, and there’s no counting on a quality third baseman hitting the FA market before passing his prime, either.
I wouldn’t fault the Cubs for not having its long-term answer at third solved by 2014 or even 2015. But it goes without saying the answer to Aramis needs to come much sooner than it did after Santo and Hack.
Aramis Ramirez currently leads all of baseball in extra base hits (59) and doubles (40). He’s on pace for 54 two-baggers this season, which would surpass the Brewers franchise record of 53 doubles set by Lyle Overbay in 2004.
Many Cubs fans thought the Brewers were insane for signing the 34-year-old Ramirez to a 3yr-$36M deal this offseason. How quickly they forget he won the Silver Slugger Award last season.
MORE HARWARE FOR ARAMIS?
Aramis hasn’t skipped a beat since joining Milwaukee. Following his typical slow start at the plate he’s hit .322 over his last 74 games raising his batting average from .218 to .288 to go along with 17 HR & 72 RBI all totaled.
At this rate he’ll challenge David Wright (.320, 16 HR, 75 RBI) during the next six weeks to defend his Silver Slugger title. And that’s not all.
Ramirez also has the highest fielding percentage (.973) and fewest number of errors (6) of any National League third baseman. A Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award in the same season?
Who would’ve thunk it?
I’m not suggesting the Cubs were fools for not re-signing Ramirez. His nine seasons spent on the North Side were highly productive, if not under-valued, but his time was up.
Aramis had clearly soured professionally under Mike Quade, and at the tail end of his career he didn’t appear interested, or willing, to invest in the Cubs lengthy rebuilding process. Who could blame him?
I gave Ramirez the nickname ‘Mr. Clutch’ for obvious reasons; he delivered more big-hits than any other Cub I can remember since his first season with Chicago in 2003.
A-Ram’s long been one of my favorite players, and always one of my favorite Cubs. He was also arguably the best acquisition Jim Hendry ever made as the Cubs GM, and unquestionably, the MVP of both the Cubs last two division winning teams in 2007-08.
But even so, Ramirez spent the better part of his Cubs tenure quietly going about his business in the shadow of Sammy Sosa and Carlos Zambrano, among others. Few, if any, however, actually outperformed him.
It seems a new deal and a new team hasn’t changed a thing about Ramirez. He continues to tear up National League pitching, and quite honestly, there’s no reason any Cubs fans should be surprised.
Remember the number 700. It’s likely the minimum number of runs scored the Cubs need to reach to make the postseason.
In 2011 Chicago managed 654 runs scored, good for eighth place in the 16 team NL, but only fourth best in their own division.
The world champion Cardinals, meanwhile, led the NL with 762 runs scored–108 more runs than Chicago.
Playoff contenders Arizona (No.4), Milwaukee (No.5) & Philadelphia (No.7) all finished in the top 10 spots.
Although the Cubs did as well, there’s a sizable gap in this department compared to the Phillies who finished one spot higher.
The NL Central has long held the distinction of hosting some of the game’s greatest sluggers.
Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire held court before the arrivals of Adam Dunn, Carlos Lee and Derrek Lee.
But with the decisions of Albert Pujols & Prince Fielder to sign lucrative free agent contracts in L.A. and Detroit, respectively, the question arises as to which player takes over the crown as the NL Central’s greatest slugger?
Here’s how I see it:
Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but I get the feeling Aramis is trying to stick it to his old team by signing with Milwaukee.
The motivation is clearly there when you think about it.
I take Aramis Ramirez’s claim that he’s ‘probably’ played his last game at Wrigley Field with a grain of salt.
If anything, Ramirez and his agent, Paul Kinzer, are posturing for a new deal with Chicago, likely in the area of three to four more years, knowing the Cubs are without a viable option to fill his departure at third base.
Although Aramis appears peeved with the Cubs front office in a state of flux, he’s clearly the top-billing for free agent third basemen entering the offseason.
That alone should keep Ramirez patient enough to see who Ricketts hires as his new GM, and what offer, if any, is presented to him following the season.
Going the free agent route to replace Ramirez is hardly an option for the Cubs. The 2012 F.A. class is mostly a mix of washed-up veterans and journeymen including: Wilson Betemit KC, Casey Blake LAD, Eric Chavez NYY, Mark DeRosa SF, Greg Dobbs PHI, Edwin Encarnacion TOR, Wes Helms FLA, Melvin Mora ARI & Miguel Tejada.
Since Mike Quade took over the Cubs last August he’s (80-86) .481.
Quite honestly, the record isn’t all that bad. But it’s the way the Cubs are losing that’s the problem.
Two reasons my ears perked up last week when Todd Hollandsworth ripped Aramis for a lack of effort this season.
1.) Aramis has been a long time favorite player of mine.
2.) Aramis has been one of the few bright spots, on the field anyway, during a dismal season in Chicago.
But according to Hollandsworth, a Comcast SportsNet analyst, Ramirez’s veteran leadership isn’t living up to the expectations of his contract paying him a handsome $14.6M.
“…then you bring into question effort and that’s one thing in the game of baseball that really is inexcusable. One hundred percent effort all the time, there’s really no reason for you not to have 100 percent effort,” Hollandsworth said.
“He’s got impressionable kids around him right now: Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, these kids are growing up, they’re watching it and you know what, they’re not getting any better…It’s lasting, it’s long-term. I mean, that’s the way that it works.”
I’ve grown to respect Hollandsworth’s opinions. He’s been fair, candid, and observant analyzing the Cubs. When he talks, I listen.
So if Hollandsworth’s criticism of Aramis is true, which I suspect it is, then the Cubs have an easy decision this off season not to bring Ramirez back, especially not at his club option of $16M.
The troubling part is the Cubs certainly had offers to deal Aramis at the trade deadline. He was, after all, one of the majors hottest hitters in July.
Ramirez, however, chose to enforce his no-trade clause, which now knowing Hollandsworth’s view point, that decision seems a bit strange on Aramis’ part.
Make no mistake, Ramirez has earned the right to decline a trade, and I respect that right. But if Ramirez isn’t happy, isn’t giving his best, isn’t making the Cubs a better team…why pass on an opportunity to join a contender?
Family reasons, as Ramirez stated, is the much overused politically correct answer, but as usual, I figure money was the real issue at stake.
With a $16M dollar club option in place for 2012 vs. a $1M dollar clause for getting traded, Ramirez stands to earn more money playing out the string with Chicago. And if the Cubs are enabling him to play at his own pace and by his own rules, why bother moving?
Ramirez has it good with Chicago…and according to Hollandsworth, maybe too good.
What the hell’s happened to advanced scouting?
Why would any respectable pitcher in the Major Leagues throw Aramis a first pitch strike?
He leads all of baseball with 11 first-pitch home runs, including his 2-run blast against Bud Norris Wednesday afternoon.
If there was ever an exception to getting ahead in the count, throwing a first pitch ball in the dirt to Aramis would be it.
Seriously, how many first-pitch home runs does the man need to hit before advanced scouts take notice, and pitchers execute it?
No wonder the Astros stink.
Aramis hit two more HR at Houston this week giving him 40 career dingers at Minute Maid Park– the most among Houston’s opponents.
I’d love to know what it is he loves so much about hitting in the heart of Texas?
It can’t simply be Houston’s poor pitching, the Stros have only recently slumped to the league’s worst club. And of course the Cubs play at Houston several times throughout the season, but 40 home runs is still a lot.
I guess as long as Ramirez keeps swinging it there, who cares? I don’t need to know how a microwave works to understand it cooks my morning coffee. Home run, fresh perk…whatever, I’ll take it!
It’s been an up and down season offensively for Geovany Soto. But the catcher has steadily improved since returning from a strained groin and trip to the DL in mid-May.
Soto’s hit so well as of late Mike Quade inserted him into the cleanup spot Tuesday night in Milwaukee. He went 1-for-4.
Since his DL return, Soto is batting .258 with 6 HR and 15 RBI. But the real progress has come during the last week with Soto hitting .333, including a 12-for-33 mark during the recent homestand.
However, as I’ve said before, Soto’s true value, as with any catcher, isn’t his offensive numbers. It’s what he does behind the plate for the Cubs’ pitching staff…a thinned-out rotation that posted seven quality starts over the 10-game homestand.
The 28-year-old backstop is doing a fine job calling games, blocking pitches in the dirt and gunning down nearly 30-percent of would-be base stealers. None of which can be overlooked.
Soto’s been a model of progress since his off the field troubles two years ago and a guy I hope the Cubs hang onto for years to come. Whatever comes of Soto offensively is simply icing on the cake.
All About Aramis
Aramis leads the Cubs with 9 HR and 22 RBI this month, which is also the most home runs this month in the majors.
In addition, Ramirez leads MLB with 9 HR coming on the first-pitch, including his first inning 2-R blast Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
That’s the most first-pitch home runs for a Cubs since Derrek Lee clubbed 11 in 2009.
The Cubs are 15-25 against the N.L. Central. That ties for the second-most losses against a team’s own division with Baltimore, Colorado and Kansas City.
-“If the Cubs put Garza on the market, they wouldn’t get what the Rays got,” said one GM on Monday. Sam Fuld has really helped. Nineteen-year old shortstop Hak-Ju Lee is hitting .324 with an .822 OPS in the Florida State League, and one scout who watched him recently says “he has a chance to be a star.”
Outfielder Brandon Guyer is hitting .305 with an .875 OPS in the International League, has already hit one homer for the Rays and plays hard all the time. Fireballing right-hander Chris Archer has had an inconsistent Double-A season, but throws 92 to 95 mph with a 90-mph slider and likely will be an important player by 2013, possibly at the end of games.
-Brewers infielder cherishes time with son who has cerebral palsy.
-Yankees activated 3B Eric Chavez from the 60-Day disabled list.
-Orioles activated DH Vladimir Guerrero from the 15-Day disabled list.
-Tigers outrighted 3B Brandon Inge to Toledo Mud Hens.
-Reds recalled Yonder Alonso from Louisville Bats.