One of the most indelible images of Aramis Ramirez of the Chicago Cubs: after he hit a two-run, walk-off home run to beat the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Brewers 6-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
This is an update to the Aramis Ramirez profile in the Top 100 Cubs series that was originally posted on December 25, 2006 -- written by BCB'er Ross. Ramirez was 55th in the original ranking, done after the 2006 season; his seasons since then, even with some of the time he lost to injury, have moved him up to 47th. (In career WAR as a Cub, Aramis ranks 55th as of the end of the 2010 season.) Most of this is the original post; the additional material is at the end of the post, with a bit of editing throughout to bring dates, etc. up to date. This is the second of five profile updates; Kerry Wood's was updated on January 23, Carlos Zambrano's on January 24 and the profile of the other active player on the list -- Derrek Lee, as well as the profile of Greg Maddux, who played two more years after 2006 -- will also be updated before spring training begins. The original comments are still here; you can add to them now.
Profile by BCB reader Ross (edited by Al Yellon with additions on January 25, 2011)
If the BCB top 100 list had been compiled in 1985, where would Ryne Sandberg have ranked? How about in 1957? Where would Ernie Banks have finished?
Aramis Ramirez's 47th placement on this list should come with an asterisk. His is a career that is incomplete, a career that likely has not yet reached its peak. In fact, the Cubs bet about $75 million over five years that he'd peak with the team, and despite several serious injuries, he has produced many exciting days -- one of them pictured above -- and, with his 19th home run of 2011, will pass Gabby Hartnett into sixth place on the all-time Cub home run list. He is a great success story; a young prospect who was brought up too soon, overcame injuries and finally found himself as one of the premier third basemen in baseball.
A cousin of slugger Manny Ramirez, Aramis Nin Ramirez was born June 25, 1978 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He signed with the Pirates as a 16-year-old non-drafted free agent in November 1994, even before he graduated from Aida Cartagena Portalatin HS. He opened his professional career with the Pirates' Dominican Rookie Summer League team, belting 11 homers, 13 doubles and 54 RBI in 1995.
He went to Single-A Erie in 1996 and earned All-Star honors with a .305 batting average and nine homers as a 17-year-old. The next year he cemented himself as one of the Pirates' top prospects when he won the Carolina League MVP award, batting .278 with 29 homers and 114 RBI at Lynchburg.
With incumbent 3B Joe Randa leaving Pittsburgh following the 1997 season, and starters Freddy Garcia (not the Mariners and White Sox pitcher) and Doug Strange not exactly tearing the cover off of the ball, the door was opened for the 19-year-old Ramirez to make his big league debut on May 26, 1998. He quickly proved that he was overmatched, going hitless in his first 24 at bats, but he came around, hitting .260 the rest of the way and finished the season at .235 with six homers and 24 RBI in 71 games. He suffered a separated shoulder and missed nearly a month.
The Pirates organization wasn't thrilled with the team's 5-25 record down the stretch and acquired a handful of veterans, including third baseman Ed Sprague, thus relegating Ramirez back to the minors. He tore up AAA pitching to the tune of .328 with 21 homers and 76 RBI, earning All-Star honors and a September cup of coffee. He also appeared in the All-Star Futures game. "There is little doubt he has superstar ability, but he's not yet ready to take that step at age 20," the Stats Inc. Scouting Notebook wrote of him following the season.
Sprague was gone by 2000 and the starting job was Ramirez's to lose. And lose it he did, hitting just .167 in 18 games before getting sent down again. He tore up AAA at .353 with 4 homers and 26 RBI and was selected to play in Futures Game before Pittsburgh recalled him. He hit .256 with six homers and 35 RBI before he suffered a dislocation of his left shoulder in late August and missed the rest of the season.
By the 2001 season, Ramirez had been pegged as an enigma. A below average runner who was hit and miss with the glove. A strong arm and a lackadaisical attitude. Immature and arrogant, but with signs of maturity and humility. It was a crossroads in his career, and Ramirez proved he was up to the challenge, putting together a breakthrough season as he hit .300 with 40 doubles, 34 homers and 112 RBI. The 2002 season saw him continue to put up big numbers in the early going and he was hitting .348 on April 17 when his season took a turn. He was plunked by the Brewers' Ben Sheets and charged the mound, only to find himself suffering a sprained ankle at the bottom of a scrum during the bench-clearing brawl. Though he never went on the DL, was unable to generate any power off of the bum ankle and hit just .234 with 17 homers.
By 2003, the question was: which Ramirez was the real one? Was the .300 season an outlier, or was he the real deal? Despite his .280 average and 12 homers through 96 games, the Pirates had tired of his inconsistency, of his inability to live up to the hype. And more to the point, they were leery of paying him the three million he was owed that season and six million he was due to receive in 2004. Rumors of the Pirates being unable to meet payroll swirled about as the Cubs swooped down on him and Kenny Lofton in exchange for shortstop Jose Hernandez, minor leaguer Matt Bruback and soon-to-fizzle prospect Bobby Hill on July 23, 2003 to fill a pair of major holes in their 2003 squad, ending the revolving door of Mark Bellhorn, Lenny Harris, Hernandez and Ramon Martinez at the hot corner.
Ramirez finished 2003 by hitting .259 with 14 homers and 39 RBI. Freed of the expectations in Pittsburgh and given a chance to develop in the shadow of other stars, he bloomed at the plate, swatting 36 homers with 103 RBI while hitting .318 in 2004 becoming only the third Cubs 3B to drive in 100 runs in a season, joining Ron Santo and Andy Pafko.
In 2004 he banged out 31 homers and hit .302 in just 123 games in 2005. And of course, he set career highs with 38 homers and 119 RBI in 2006. Overall he has hit 213 homers in his Cubs career (seventh on the club all-time list) and has a .293 batting average in the blue pinstripes (3667 AB, 1073 hits).
When Ramirez elected to opt out in the midst of his four year, $42 million dollar contract that he signed in April, 2005, many Cubs fans were heartbroken, fully expecting to see him cash in for huge money elsewhere. Instead, Ramirez told his agent that he wanted to stay in Chicago, and he eventually took less money in a five-year, $73 million dollar deal that also gave him a no-trade clause. He made it clear he wants to win in Chicago.
"I've got a lot to prove here," he told the media after signing the deal. "We were so close to winning the World Series in '03. I know I left a lot of money on the table, but I want to be here, I like it here and I know we're going to win here."
His 2007 and 2008 seasons, perhaps his career peak, produced .915 and .898 OPS figures and 100+ RBI each season, making it three years in a row he would drive in 100 or more runs. He was one of eight Cubs to make the NL All-Star team in 2008, and his production was a big reason the team led the NL in runs scored. He was mostly healthy those two years, although he missed 30 games in 2007, even while finishing 13th in NL MVP voting.
The 2009 season started out well for Aramis and then on May 8 in Milwaukee, he dove for a Ryan Braun smash down the line and lay on the ground grimacing in pain. He had dislocated his left shoulder. In retrospect, since the Cubs went nowhere in 2009, Aramis probably should have rested longer. But two months later he was back in the lineup, and after a slow start, he had a good second half and wound up with overall numbers in just over a half season's worth of games played (82): 15 HR, 65 RBI, .317/.389/.516, that would have made him a MVP candidate over a full year.
Ramirez did not have a good start in 2010. In fact, that's being nice. He barely hit .160 for the first two months and his OPS was hardly half of his usual .900+ -- he struggled to keep it over .500. Finally, in early June, he and the team acknowledged he had a hand injury and he went on the DL. On his return, clearly healthy, he started to rake in his traditional style, and in, again, about half a season's worth of games (77), he hit .287/.333/.556 (.889 OPS) with 20 HR and 61 RBI, hinting that, given a full healthy season, A-Ram could still put up the numbers Cubs fans became accustomed to between 2004 and 2008. Even missing two months, he still led the Cubs in HR and RBI.
Ramirez had another opt-out clause after 2010, but realizing his overall 2010 numbers might not rate a big free-agent deal, he chose to stay with the Cubs. The team has a $16 million option for 2012 with a $2 million buyout; if Ramirez can put up another .900+ OPS season with 35 HR and 110 RBI, look for him to remain with the team in 2012 (and beyond that, he'd be an MVP candidate and the team would be vastly improved, too). He's still among the most popular Cubs; his No. 16 jerseys are seen all over Wrigley, and he and Carlos Zambrano are the most senior Cubs in consecutive tenure (along with Kerry Wood, who has returned).