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Wednesday, July 17

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Cubs Tue Nov 08 2011

Ramirez Looms as Test of Cubs' New Philosophy

Thumbnail image for cubs.gifOne could argue that Aramis Ramirez has been one of the most underrated players in baseball since he became a Cub in 2003. He's been a talented hitter, perhaps the best offensive third baseman in the National League over the past decade.

That doesn't mean the Cubs should re-sign him.

Yes, Ramirez has surpassed 25 home runs every season in Chicago, except during his injury-plagued 2009. Sure, he's hit over .300 five times. And no, you can't forget that he has garnered MVP votes in four different seasons, and made two all-star teams.

But as Theo Epstein said in his introductory press conference, the idea is to "pay for future performance, not past performance." This is the first test of that mantra.

Ramirez is already in his early 30s, had a down year in 2010, and seems in the decline phase of his career. Was his performance this season (26 home runs, 93 RBIs, .306 average) an aberration? A textbook case of a contract year?

Ramirez has said he is happy Epstein was brought in to run the team, and even though he opted out of his contract, Ramirez welcomes a return. Yet still, at age 33, Ramirez is seeking a multi-year deal, the last big payday of his career. And after a strong year, it seems likely some team with offensive holes will overpay him a little.

Unless he gives the Cubs a hometown discount, Chicago should pass on re-signing Ramirez. Nothing would be worse than if Ramirez was re-signed, became ineffective, and turned into a sunk cost. Letting him go is simply a matter of protection against the unknown.

Chicago can use the money they save to spend for a premium player at another position (hopefully one a few years younger), and they can pursue a cheaper option at third if need be.

Plus, Ramirez's departure could open up a spot for young talent, including prospect Josh Vitters. The 22-year-old was the third pick in the 2007 draft, and had a solid 2011 season for AA Tennessee (14 home runs, 81 RBIs, .283 average). It is unlikely Vitters will be the starter for the Cubs on Opening Day, but he could be a factor late in the season or in 2013. It might be time to see what he can do.

Aramis Ramirez has been great in Chicago. The trade with Pittsburgh to acquire Ramirez was one of the most lopsided trades of the 2000s. Yet, if the Cubs truly are looking to build sustained success, it would be best for Epstein and Jed Hoyer to bid him adieu.

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