We’ve talked about the hole at third base for as long as I can remember before Aramis Ramirez came over from the Pirates in 2003. He’s anchored a position that featured a host of terrible options since Ron Santo. Now, it’s coming time for the Cubs to make a decision on his future for 2012, but is there really any decision that needs to be made? Do the Cubs really have a choice in the matter? Let’s first take a look at some of the details of Ramirez’ contract.

After the 2010 season, Ramirez had the right to void the final two years and become a free agent. He chose to exercise his player option and return this year. We knew that was going to happen given the injury issues and lack of production in 2010. Now that puts the ball back in the Cubs court. The Cubs have an option to bring Ramirez back at a rate of $16 million, a $1.4 mil raise over the 2011 salary, or buy him out for $2 mil. You can call it an option, but is it really? What options do the Cubs really have?

Free Agents

A quick look at the crop of upcoming free agent third baseman not named Aramis yields three names. Greg Dobbs from the Marlins, Casey Blake of the Dodgers and for Cub and current Giant, Mark DeRosa. Maybe those names excite you a little, but they don’t do a thing for me. That means the replacement would have to come in the form of the farm system or a trade.

Farm System

The biggest name in the system, the guy that was supposed to be the heir apparent, is Josh Vitters. He was drafted out of high school in 2007 which was supposed to give him four years to develop and be ready to slot in there next year when the Cubs declined the 2012 option. Unfortunately, Vitters hasn’t developed as quickly as you would hope and leaves the Cubs with a gap before he’s ready (assuming one day he will, in fact, be ready). I’m not really ready to bet on Vitters at this point, if he was listed in the baseball lines found at BetUS.

The other intriguing name, and it could be a viable option for a temporary solution while we wait on Vitters, is Marquez Smith. He had a nice year in 2010 and turned some heads in the process. He’s still learning at the AAA level, but should he continue to improve, he may do enough to at least be given a shot. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a lock right now out of the farm system. Just some dice we can roll and hope.

It’s hard to predict trades, especially because the Matt Garza trade depleted the farm a little, so at this point you really have to ask yourselves whether or not the Cubs really have a choice on bringing Ramirez back next season.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. 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. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail