What We Have

Aramis Ramirez – We got confirmation from Ramirez late in the year that he would be back with the Cubs for 2011. He has a player option for 2011 for $14.6 mil, which he’s expected to exercise and then the Cubs hold an option for 2012 for $16 mil with a $2 mil. buyout. Before you get upset about the fact that Ramirez is coming back after a disappointing 2010 campaign, think about the fact that since he’s come to the Cubs he’s always been a legit bat in the heart of the order. He’s been one of the best clutch contact hitters in the lineup and has been the one guy you want up in those situations before last year. Let’s not dismiss that because of one season that included injuries. Ramirez has said that the hand injury was not the cause of his slump at the beginning of year, but I truly believe that he did not want to make an excuse. Once he came back healthy, we saw a July and August that were reminiscent of old, and lead me to believe that he can be a great hitter again in 2011. Beyond that, I’m not sure, but for 2011 I’m putting my chips all in on Rammy.

What is on the Horizon

Josh Vitters – Taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 2007 draft out of high school, the time table worked out perfectly for him to develop through the system for four or five years while Ramirez finished out his time in Chicago and then take over as the heir apparent at third base. The only problem is that Vitters hasn’t held up his end of the bargain and is dangerously close from being completely off the radar as a potential major league candidate after a pretty disappointing 2010 that ended with a broken hand. There is talk that the Cubs may give him a serious look at first base given the lack of depth at the position in the system. He’s been playing third base in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time due to the injury and he’s still struggling. As of this writing, he’s hitting .242 / .278 / .394 in eight games. He’s got to improve his plate discipline dramatically to make an impact and launch himself into prospect relevance again. 2011 is a big big year for him.

Marquez Smith – He had a big year in 2010 that got him noticed as a name that can potentially pass Vitters as the top third base prospect in the system. At the AAA level in 2010, Smith hit .314 / .384 / .574 with 17 HR and 53 RBI in 91 games. The knock on him at this point is the fact that he’s not broken out like that before and he’s going to be 26 next year. Still, more production like that should get him a legit look and Major League playing time, especially considering Ramirez and his injury history.

Russ Canzler – I don’t know that Canzler really has a chance to be considered a top prospect, but he had a good year in AA so I felt like I should at least mention him. He was selected out of high school back in 2004 in the 30th round. That right there tells you he probably wasn’t highly recruited to major colleges. He’s worked his way through the system slowly. His 2010 Double-A numbers appear to indicate that he’s ready for the next challenge, so we’ll see where the Cubs go with him, especially with the concept of moving Vitters to 1st. He can hit for power and draws a fair amount of walks, so that’s always a positive when you’re developing.

Honorable Mention:

Matthew Cerda – He makes the list as an honorable mention for the simple fact that he struck out 68 times, but also drew 68 walks in 120+ games. That translates to a guy that can draw just about 90 walks over the course of 162 games.

Notable Names Available via Free Agency

Garrett Atkins – If ever there was a guy you could call a product of Coors Field, it’s Atkins. Look at these splits in his career:

Split     G   PA 2B 3B HR RBI   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Home    400 1586 89  6 49 268 .321 .380 .495 .875
Away    417 1687 80  1 50 220 .252 .322 .406 .728

Adrian Beltre – This is an interesting one. He signed a two year deal with the second year being optional for him at his discretion. In 2010, the Red Sox paid him $9 million. Where it gets interesting is his 2011 scheduled salary. The contract called for him to have a player option at $5 million. After the year he had, that doesn’t seem very good for him to return under. However, in his contract were two incentives that allowed him to make a little more. Both incentives were based on plate appearances, given Beltre’s injury history. The key incentive was if he at 640+ plate appearances in 2010. If that happened, his salary schedule would double to $10 million. Total number of plate appearances for Beltre in 2010? 641. My guess is he’ll return at that rate for 2011.

Jorge Cantu – I feel like I remember someone suggesting his name in the comment section so I put him on the list. I watched him play in Tampa and didn’t like him.

Brandon Inge – Another guy that someone loved watching. He was mentioned in the comments so he makes this list. I love his versatility, but not his skill.

Joe’s Best Course of Action

With Ramirez deciding that he’s going to be returning, it’s clear that there is not a major need at the third base position, that is as long as you subscribe to the same theory I do that Rammy will be back to full strength in 2011. That being said, I think we’ve got enough in house to hold down the fort from a backup role standpoint to where the money can be better used to address other areas of this team. I look to Darwin Barney, Jeff Baker and Aki Iwamura to be available to fill the role behind Ramirez on days he needs a rest.

Three Questions for Discussion

1. Will we see the return to form of Aramis Ramirez in 2011? What will his numbers look like?

2. If you had to gamble on a current member of the system to be the next third baseman for the Cubs, who is your horse for that race?

3. What is your plan for the 3B position as a whole moving forward?

Joe’s Roster So Far

C – Geovany Soto /  Robinson Chirinos

1b – Adam Dunn / Micah Hoffpauir

2b – Blake DeWitt / Jeff Baker / Darwin Barney / Akinori Iwamura

SS – Starlin Castro

3b – Aramis Ramirez

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids and helps people protect their assets as an independent insurance agent. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail