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Is Aramis Ramirez Insane?

Word out of Chicago is that Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez might reject a $14.6 million player option for the 2011 season. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which nearly any person would turn down $16.6 million in guaranteed money ($2 million from a buyout of a 2012 team option). It’s especially difficult when said person carried a .297 OBP into play yesterday. Ramirez has played as a below average player in 2010 so far, compiling 0.9 WAR in 441 plate appearances. That kind of performance would be good for closer to $4 million on the free agent market than $14 million.

But there are two important things to consider with this situation. First of all, Ramirez is quite likely much better than he’s been this year. ZiPS projects him for a .371 wOBA going forward, well above the league average and fantastic for a third baseman. A .371 wOBA wouldn’t put him on the 4.5-5.5 WAR level that he was at from 2006-2008 and would have been in 2009 if not for injury, but it could be somewhere in the 3.5-4.5 WAR range, which would put his market value right around that $14.6 million dollar range.

Second of all, Ramirez would be making a substantial amount of money next year, but he would also risk complete collapse in 2011, which would make his current contract his last contract. Even if teams don’t buy the rebirth imagined above, it’s hard to imagine that teams wouldn’t still look at him as an average player. Ramirez still has big time power, with 22 HRs and a .211 ISO. His defense is probably below average – all of the systems available here on FanGraphs have him below average in 2008, 2009, and 2010 when available. Still, with that kind of bat, his defense would have to be exceptionally bad for him to produce at a below average level, barring another season with a .246 batting average on balls in play. At that level, it would be quite easy to see Ramirez earning something like a 3-year, $27 million contract, and if his past seasons are given more (and proper) weight, he could see something as high as 3 years, $40 million, both paying much more than his current player option.

The potential for Ramirez to forego $16 million likely has some in Chicago scratching their heads, both around the Cubs organization and in the streets of the North Side. But when you consider the length of his contract, his current skill level, and the possibility of collapse with age, it may make sense for Ramirez to go for another long term contract while he has the chance. There’s a good chance that Ramirez’s best option, in terms of dollar amounts, would be to take his player option and then go for another contract for the 2012 season and beyond. If Ramirez wants to avoid the risk of collapse, however, as odd as it may sound, his best option may be to test the free agent market a year earlier and eschew the guaranteed money.