Aramis Ramirez is ready to leave the Chicago Cubs. After eight-and-a-half seasons with the team, Ramirez’s agent announced that his client will test the free agent market this off-season. While Ramirez initially was hesitant to leave Chicago, he apparently changed his mind once he realized the Cubs are transitioning into a rebuilding period. Ramirez, 33, has also acknowledged that he wants to move to a winning team as he transitions to the twilight of his career.
The free-agent market couldn’t look better for him. After suffering from injuries the past two seasons, Ramirez has rebounded to post his strongest statistical season since 2008. On top of that, Ramirez has benefited from injuries to a slew of other third basemen across the league this year. Because of those injuries, Ramirez this season rates as the fifth-best third baseman in baseball. While those factors could influence teams to think Ramirez is well worth a significant chunk of cash, there are some concerns about paying Ramirez such a large sum.
Even Ramirez has acknowledged that he’s no spring chicken. While his statistical resurgence has been nice, Ramirez’s age puts him at risk of serious decline. And it’d be coming sooner, rather than later. Since Ramirez is looking for a three-to-four-year deal, whichever team decides to sign him is going to have to consider the risks behind paying a 33-year-old third baseman for a significant period of time. Injuries have also been a reoccuring problem for Ramirez the past couple seasons. A dislocated shoulder limited Ramirez to just 82 games in 2009, and various injuries dragged down Ramirez’s slash line in 2010. Though things have been better this season, Ramirez’s recent injury history is especially concerning when you consider his age.
If this season has proven anything, it’s that a healthy Ramirez is still capable of solid production at third base. For Ramirez to become a free agent, he’ll first have to turn down a $16 million option with the Cubs. While that seems like a lot of money for an aging third baseman, Ramirez has been worth roughly $16 million this season (if we assume a win is worth about $5 million). Due to his age and injury history, Ramirez could struggle to make that much on the open market.
As he’s proven this season, Ramirez still has something left in the tank. While his performance might benefit from the fact that other elite third basemen have been injured this season, he’ll likely be the strongest third baseman on the free-agent market. Unfortunately, Ramirez’s injury history and age make him a risky pickup — especially if he’s going to demand a long-term deal. If opting out is really about joining a winning team, Ramirez has every right to seek a World Series ring. But if Ramirez hopes to cash in after his resurgent 2011, he might find that life outside The Friendly Confines isn’t so friendly.